Internet blockade and urban middle class youth – by Ahmed Nadeem Gehla

On Wednesday 19th May 2010, the Lahore High Court, famous for acting as a “moral brigade” rather than judiciary, once again passed a strange order to ban Facebook across Pakistan on a petition of Muslim Lawyers Forum. The demand for blocking of the social media site came after it refused to remove certain pages displaying Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons.

This order was passed against the request of the government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority that controversial pages of Facebook were already being blocked and there was no reason to block entire social media website which has over 2 million Pakistani users.

Few months back Lahore High Court took suo-moto notice of album of a popular female singer and declared her songs to be ‘vulgar’. This was followed by Chief Justice Lahore High Court’s remarks that Hindus were financing the terrorism in Pakistan which attracted protests from Hindu minority of Pakistan. This mixing of religion in to matters of state is opposite to the judgment of the Bangladesh’s Supreme Court which imposed ban on religious parties to take part in politics.

The court order to ban entire social media site is not only unreasonable but amounts to restrict the freedom of expression of which judiciary is a guardian. It also reflects the mindset and strong inclination of present superior judiciary towards right wing religious fundamentalist groups which can easily get ‘desired justice’.

JI, a religious fanatic group which is strong supporter of present judiciary and was successful to get its members recruited in superior judiciary after restoration of Chief Justice is organizing the protests to ban all ‘Western Infidel’ websites including Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter etc. The wish for a ‘stone age’ as termed by Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, a youth leader. The Islamic Lawyer forum which filed the petition to block Facebook itself is a lawyers wing of JI fanatics.

The most interesting fall out of the court order is the strong reaction of Pakistani urban middle class youth, which widely uses Facebook for social interaction. The same youth was the most active supporter of movement for restoration of present judiciary. They are demanding from the government to immediately lift the blockage of Facebook website.

One of the protesters and an active blogger/civil society activist Dr. Awab Alvi writes ; “As members of civil society and professionals who depend on social media networks for our daily communications, we demand the immediate restoration of Facebook and an end to Internet censorship by the Government of Pakistan”.

But if government does lifts the ban on this demands, it will be disobeying the court orders.

Should not it be a protest against judiciary instead which has allied itself with religious fanatics and is acting as ‘Moral Brigade’ rather than an institution to dispense justice?

Historically religious groups in Pakistan have been providing support to military dictators and been associated with intelligence agencies to bring down the elected governments. After removal of Pervez Musharaf, the military establishment decided not to interfere directly in political issues. Certain sections of establishment and religious groups which are eager to remove present regime have associated themselves with judiciary.

Many critics blame that Lawyers movement which was initiated by lawyers and civil society was later hijacked by PMLN, PTI and JI and judiciary is under strong influence of right wing fundamentalist groups. The recent recruitments in superior judiciary are also being criticized as being from a certain ‘mind set’ and comprise of judges from certain political and religious parties.

As the conflict between PPP government and Judiciary is becoming intense, the judiciary is gathering the support of religious groups. Recently Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the former head of JI announced to get SC judgments implemented through ‘street power’. Yeah, now judiciary needs religious goons to get its orders implemented – though no suo-moto by good Chief Justice asking Mr. Qazi that who appointed him the ‘bailiff’ of SC!

In order to retain the support of religious fundamentalist groups, judiciary would have to deliver more judgments like ban on Facebook as per fanatics demands. This seems to be just the beaning as the demands of religious fanatics would not anything less than turning Pakistani society in to Taliban style Emirates.

As Supreme Court declared in its recent judgment to be custodian of imaginary ‘basic features’ of constitution of Pakistan and judging the righteousness of elected representatives, closer cooperation between fundamentalist and judiciary is inevitable. The top leaders of lawyer’s movement like Ali Ahmad Kurd are openly confessing that this is not the judiciary for what we struggled.

But where do the Urban middle class youth, which worked tirelessly for restoration of judiciary fits in this whole set up? Would they be able to digest the fanatic’s demands? They do not want to loose the freedom of expression and reject the ban on Facebook. They do not want court of Qazi to ban their favorite singer but they are demanding from government to lift the blockage of social media site.

Protesting against government while the ban is ordered by a ‘holly lordship’ of Lahore High Court is sign of their confusion.

In fact they are still unable to accept the fact that Lawyers movement was hijacked by right wing fundamentalist groups and present judiciary is composed of and an ally of religious fanatics. The fact they should have been realized when Supreme Court slept over the so called ‘Missing Persons’ issue, 12th May probe and countless other slogans raised during lawyers movements.

The only hope which still keeps them away from straight away protesting against ‘moral policing’ of judiciary and its partial judgments and instead make the government a scapegoat is that one day judiciary will boot “evil” Zardari out from his office. But what they are unable to understand is that it wont be possible unless a strong alliance of religious fanatics is there to support judiciary. As has been a custom when we underwent the military dictatorship – judicial dictatorship wont work differently.

What will be the cost of that alliance doesn’t need Einstein to figure out – and that is civil society itself. More influence of religious fanatics will hurt these urban middle class youth, who are not willing to compromise on their liberties but confused and unable to face the reality.

Can the civil society and urban middle class youth be part of the Mullah-Judiciary alliance against PPP government? They must ask themselves. It is up to them to decide whether they want an other repeat of notorious Ziaist era when general associated religious fanatics in power game. The Mullah-Judiciary alliance is going to be much more disastrous for civil society than what we have experienced in past.



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