Keenan Malik’s blog also banned in Pakistan with the help of WordPress

July 22, 2018 • 2:30 pm

As you may recall, WordPress, the organization that hosts this site, got complaints from the Pakistani government that some of my posts were offensive because they hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Those posts were were ones showing Jesus and Mo cartoons, which satirize Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. WordPress decided to cooperate with Pakistan by simply blocking my entire website from being viewed in that country, a move that, in view of WordPress’s avowed commitment to free speech, made me upset and angry.

Now Kenan Malik, a British writer and broadcaster of Indian descent, has experienced the same banning by proxy. As he describes on his own website, Pandaemonium (Malik’s words are indented):

This week WordPress received an email from the  ‘Web Analysis Team’ of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)  ‘The webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan’, it read. What particularly seemed to concern the PTA were my articles about Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine targeted by Islamist gunmen in a machinegun attack that left 12 people dead in January 2015. These articles, and the images from the magazine that I have published (in particular the one above), are, according to the PTA, ‘in violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan’. It ordered WordPress to block access to my website in Pakistan in order ‘to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world’. Which is why readers in Pakistan can no longer access Pandaemonium.

After criticizing those members of the writer’s organization PEN who protested its award “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to Charlie Hebdo, Malik delves into the larger issue of the Left’s complicity in such censorship. This includes some liberals’ misguided damning of Charlie Hebdo as “racist”:

What the Pakistani action does do is provide a new perspective on the attitudes of many Western liberals towards Charlie Hebdo. When the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked in 2015, many liberals in the West were reluctant to offer their solidarity. As I observed in the immediate aftermath of the attack (in one of the articles that caused offence to the PTA), ‘hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam’.  ‘Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Muhammad’, I added, ‘appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.’

. . . In countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, writers and cartoonists constantly risk their lives facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms. They constantly challenge the kind of censorship imposed by the PTA. They are the people whom many Western liberals betray in their refusal to support free speech and in their insistence that to mock Muhammad or to champion blasphemy is to be ‘racist’.

Such liberal critics would no doubt object to Pakistan’s decision to censor ‘blasphemous’ websites. But it’s worth asking: is there really that great a distance between their refusal to support Charlie Hebdo and the Pakistani authorities’ takedown of websites that do demonstrate solidarity?

Amen.

27 thoughts on “Keenan Malik’s blog also banned in Pakistan with the help of WordPress

  1. WordPress is probably not aware that many Pakistani laws hurt the sentiments of gays, apostates, atheists or Ahmadis.

    1. Unlikely, but they are more than aware they can earn money in Pakistan by kissing the arse of its barbarian government.

  2. The comment “to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world” seems like a thinly veiled threat of violence, that if Malik doesn’t comply someone might take such offence that they will be motivated to carry out another attack. Furthermore, it points the blame at the person expressing freedom of speech.

      1. Islamism is just a subcategory of fiction based belief system. To solve the problem we need to generalize our conception of what is wrong with human culture from these specific iterations to the supercategory. Failure to do so will reinforce divisions that generate conflict rather than break them down. Also, it’s more helpful to refer to the belief than to the believer in order to avoid another conflict generating cultural pattern, that of vilifying other humans. The threat come from the idea, and the ideas in people’s minds can be changed to some degree.

  3. WordPress has to walk a line between voluntarilly blocking specific websites and keeping them open and facing litigation under Pakistani law: I presume that Pakistan can only block WordPress by getting a blanket injunction against WordPress for not conforming to Pakistani law. The former will keep other sites open, the latter will remove ALL WordPress sites from Pakistan.

    WordPress could try redirecting any requests for problematical sites to mirror servers using a different address. It would be quite difficult for Pakistan to legislate for these, since such sites would (in theory) be legally distinct from WordPress itself (even if they are in practice still hosted by WordPress).

    Spreading mirrors around the Internet (or transferring to other hosts similar to WordPress) could make such censorship practically unfeasible under law. Injunctions are not transferable from one company to another.

    It already seems something of a fantasy that Pakistan thinks that it can ACTUALLY block all sites which are “unsympathetic” or negative to Islam.

    If anything at all, such censorship is likely to provoke even more negative comment concerning Islam.

    Another thing WordPress could try is to block a site for a short period and then unblock it after a month or two: this would put the Pakistani authorities on the spot since they would take time to even notice.

    Another thing that can be tried is to change the name of the “offending” website. WordPress can then claim that the “offending” site has been removed. This is a pain for regular users of the site however.

    In the end it is for Pakistanis to fight for their own intellectual freedom: if they want to live under a theocratic dictatorship, that’s their cabbage.

    1. Or WordPress could just tell them to fuck right off.

      From a technical perspective, WordPress isn’t sending that material into Pakistan. Individuals in Pakistan are requesting to download those blog pages from WordPress servers in other countries. If the Pakistani authorities want to prevent that, they’re free to implement their own version of the Great Firewall of China. WordPress should not be complicit in censorship.

      WordPress is owned by Automattic. The CEO is Matt Mullenweg (matt@wordpress.com) and they have a comments page here: https://automattic.com/contact/

      1. “Or WordPress could just tell them to fuck right off.”

        That’s effectively the second option I mentioned.
        Wordpress are really between a rock and a hard place.

        WordPress was blocked in Turkey in 2007:
        https://en.blog.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/why-were-blocked-in-turkey/

        This happened after a private legal prosecution brought by Adnan Oktar (the cult leader who also had Dawkins’ site blocked and who was recently arrested:
        https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjewpTU8LPcAhUH36QKHRlpDUcQFggrMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fworld-europe-44792102&usg=AOvVaw1c8GKUcWMnETSHYdPE0AhW
        ).

        Depends which is the best outcome: get yourself a global ban OR go along with it up to a point but keep other sites open.

        I don’t see how Pakistan can police and censure the WHOLE of the Internet.

        I remember our Prime Minister Cameron making a public promise to make the Internet safe for children within two years. Given that this is pretty much impossible from a technical point of view (questionable material is loaded up faster than any censor could check it, and that acceptable legal means to do it do not really exist in the UK) the topic soon passed into oblivion.

    2. You seem to assume that WordPress should be motivated to circumvent Pakistani law by subterfuge. I don’t think that would be wise of them, it would most likely just result in all of WordPress being banned in Pakistan anyway.

      I don’t fault WordPress for pulling the site. They host 30% of the blogs on the Internet, I don’t think all those other sites should be held hostage (in Pakistan).

      Judging by the list of banned sites that someone posted in a previous thread, it’s cartoons that really make the Pakistan censors sit up and pay attention. Not so much atheism or evolution.

      Of course WEIT could get its own domain name (weit.com? weit.info?), either hosted on WordPress.com or elsewhere. The WordPress software is free and open source so could still be used. Presumably then the PTA would address their email complaints directly to PCC and he could tell them personally to stuff it. The net result would be the same.

      cr

      1. (Note – I’m not against individual sites, who may not have much to lose, making the PTA play whack-a-mole with them. I just don’t think it’s a practical tactic for an organisation such as WordPress.com)

        cr

      2. I’m not recommending that WordPress circumvent Pakistani law: as far as I am concerned they are outside Pakistani law and that they should play whatever strategy they think constructive.

        I also favour the idea that they try to keep their channels as open as possible and not incite a blanket block on WordPress.
        Mind you if WordPress gets blocked in Pakistan, many Pakistanis will note the fact and not be happy about it.

        Technically, Pakistani Law can block the availability of WordPress within Pakistani territory. That is not an action directly against WordPress (I doubt that WordPress can be prosecuted or punished) the action would be an injunction to obtain the legal right to block access to an Internet service.

        My main point was that the Pakistani law is not very practical (except within the country itself).

        If they try to protest against certain graphical content, the best response would be to ensure that the same graphic content propagates to other available sites (in many cases WordPress contained links to other sites which contained the source material). The censor will get overloaded with potential offensive sites and will have to run around applying for injunctions.

        I think that this law is not enforceable worldwide.

        1. I’m sure Pakistani law is only enforceable inside Pakistan. But inside Pakistan, the law is whatever the law says it is.

          And they probably don’t need to get an injunction against every Internet provider. Once a cartoon has been ruled illegal by the censor, anyone reproducing it would be guilty of an offence. That’s how censorship works in most countries (though it’s usually directed against kiddie porn et al)

          If Pakistani law says the PTA can ban any website at its discretion then that’s what the PTA can do.

          cr

          1. Then WordPress should let the PTA do it, not participate in censorship themselves.

            WordPress isn’t broadcasting that material into Pakistan (not that I’d mind if they did). People inside Pakistan are requesting the material by downloading it via their browsers. WordPress has no obligation to help the PTA block material that people want to see.

  4. Dunno what the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has against mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. More people should be trained in CPR, you ask me.

  5. Screw the government of Pakistan; my only concern here is for freedom-loving Pakistanis being denied access to honest outside information. Been a long time since the US has given any official support for human-rights in foreign lands — at least 548 days and counting by my reckoning.

  6. Wow! What a wonderful acknowledgement ! I struggle to be consistently offensive to just one or two people … I can only dream of being banned by a entire nation. This is an outstanding achievement and one of which I am genuinely envious. Keep up the good work.

  7. I am pulling our organisations site from WordPress as I am about to spend a lot of time developing it and don’t want to risk it if WordPress then bans our site at the whim of government.

    See thread below re my correspondence with WordPress support:

    Re: [-] Censorship so I want a refund

    Thanks yes we do seek the refund as I have time now to spend developing our site but don’t want to with WordPress – the question in my mind is: what if the Australian government asks you to pull down our site because we disagree with Australian government policy regarding disability support pension.

    You should not bend to the Pakistan insistence. The issue at question is do you support freedom of speech or not. Apparently, given Pakistan is the ONLY government requesting it that in itself should ring ‘censorship’ warning bells with you!

    Sue Smalldon
    For DSPAUSTRALIA.ORG

    Sent from my iPad

    On 24 Jul 2018, at 5:22 am, WordPress.com Support wrote:

    ##- Please type your reply above this line -##
    Sal P. (Automattic)
    Jul 23, 19:52 UTC

    Hi there,

    I want a refund in full, for my subscription as I will not spend time developing my site in WordPress under the threat of censorship by WordPress.

    Thanks for getting back in touch.

    To clarify, WordPress.com does not censor content or remove any content unless it is in violation of our Terms of Service. As the owners of both kenanmalik.com and whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com stated on their site, the censorship demands came from an authority within the Pakistani government, specifically the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority:

    https://www.pta.gov.pk/

    Upon receipt of such demands, we have no choice but to block access to the content at issue within Pakistan or else allow the Pakistani government to block the entirety of WordPress.com in the region.

    As is our process, both site owners were immediately notified of the block within Pakistan and we provided them with the following resources for their readers which you may be interested in as well:

    https://beatcensorship.wordpress.com/

    You may also be interested in our bi-annual Transparency Report which outlines, among other things, the volume of these demands and the percentage that we’re ultimately compelled to comply with:

    https://transparency.automattic.com/takedown-demands/

    In the near future, we’ll have the latest statistics published for the period of January through June, 2018.

    I hope that helps clarify things, but if you would still like to cancel your subscription and request a refund, I can offer you A$62 (which is A$96 for your WordPress.com Premium subscription minus A$34 for your domain registration of dspaustralia.org).

    If that sounds ok, let me know if you’d like to proceed with the cancellation and refund of your Premium subscription. Once that’s complete, you can follow the steps here to transfer your domain to a new registrar:

    http://en.support.wordpress.com/domains/transfer-domain-registration/

    Best,

    Sal P. | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

    This email is a service from Automattic.
    [PMZP67-G9ML]

    1. It might be worth your time to check out WP Engine. It is essentially the same technology. They very well might have a better policy vis-s-vis Pakistani censorship.

  8. That’s really disappointing. I’m with WordPress too. I’ll have to admit though, if my website were about religion, I’d be pretty stoked to find out that I offended an entire country. But then I’d be really pissed about getting censored. I feel so sorry for atheists over there – or any non-Muslim. They are why it’s so worth speaking out if you live somewhere that you can.

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