Two weeks after the Pakistan government passed a new law with tough punishment for cyber crimes, hundreds of anti-establishment blogs have been blocked, bloggers said.
Access to blogspot.com, a hosting domain that contains hundreds of blogs by Pakistani students and activists opposing President Pervez Musharraf's rule and championing causes like the reinstatement of deposed judges, has been blocked or restricted across the country since Monday.
However, Information Technology Ministry member Nooruddin Baqai told The News that no instructions to ban certain websites had been issued by the Inter-Ministerial committee on national issues.
Students of various universities, including the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences, FAST-National University and Punjab University, had started hosting blogs. The trend registered a jump after Musharraf imposed emergency on November 3 last year and private TV channels were taken off cable networks.
Students who host a blog to bring out The Emergency Times on Tuesday added a new post telling people how to dodge the block and read their e-newspaper.
"In another desperate measure, the government has banned access to blogs (particularly blogspot/wordpress) from Pakistan. Hence, The Emergency Times and other such avenues of information are no longer accessible to Pakistanis. Don't worry. They can't stop us," read the post.
Some students have already started a movement "Slap the Ban" to protest against what they say is a measure similar to the ban imposed on TV news channels by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
The channels had to sign a government-mandated code of conduct before they were allowed to return to cable networks.
The blogs hosted by students and activists provided Pakistanis around the world information about the goings-on in the country following the imposition of emergency. The students worked round-in-the-clock in shifts to keep everyone updated.
And, over the months, they helped organise protests and became a link between the deposed judiciary and civil society. The blogs also gave fresh impetus to the student movement, which had been practically dead in Pakistan for three decades.
According to some students, they were running several research projects on these blogs. Work was in progress on one such project "Name, Shame and Campaign" at riseofpakistan.blogspot.
An IT expert, seeking anonymity, told The News that in September 2007, Google had for some unknown reasons suddenly reverted to its original Internet Protocol address, which had been put on the block list in Pakistan since March 2006.
"This move resulted in blocking all Internet traffic to the blogspot.com domain. The domain may have been blocked because of the same problem," he said.
Under the Cyber Crimes Ordinance, issued on December 31, 2007, acts of cyber terrorism can be punished with the death sentence or life imprisonment. The new law includes stiff punishment for violations of its other provisions.
The government will also set up special IT tribunals in Islamabad and the four provincial capitals to investigate and counter cyber crimes.