Pakistan's strict online censorship policy has drawn criticism from human rights groups. But while sites like YouTube are banned, Islamist sites proliferate, policed by committed groups of pro-censorship conservatives.
At an Internet café in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, students try to get uninterrupted access to the Internet. But for many Pakistanis, it’s a futile exercise.
"This site is blocked, we don't have access to it," explained a student, staring at a page with a message that read: “This website is not accessible. The site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited for viewership within Pakistan.”
Pakistani authorities have blocked access to between 20,000 to 40,000 websites, according to a recent report by an independent Pakistani media rights organisation. The actual figure, the report noted, may be far higher.
Banned sites include YouTube, which was blocked two years ago, after the release of an anti-Islam film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked demonstrations across the country.
But it’s easy to access websites that promote Islamist and jihadist activities.
At the Internet café in Lahore, a student logged onto one of innumerable jihadist websites available on the web. "Such websites that spread hate should be blocked,” he exclaimed. “But I click on it, and it opens easily."
Armies of online Islamists
Most Islamist movements in Pakistan now have an Internet department handling online content.
At a slick office in the basement of a city mosque, a group of men work on computers with high-speed Internet access overseen by a bank of flickering TV screens. This is the Inte... Go on reading on our web site.
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