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Pakistan: Plans to Filter Around 1,500 Words in SMS Traffic

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is the center of attention of the country's social media junkies and human right groups these days, for its infamous leaked PTA banned list of obscene words and phrases for SMS traffic. The list contains words like “Do it”, ”Tongue”, “Jesus Christ”, “Tampon”, “Period”, “Satan”, “Monkey crotch”, “Deposit” and “Fairy”. Also banned are 50 different ways of using F word and also “Budweiser” and “Lund”.

The PTA has become a laughing stock and initially many believed the list to be a hoax. The list of 586 Urdu and 1,109 English words and phrases was sent to the mobile phone operators in the country on 14 November 2011, by the PTA.

Sources say that service providers were asked to implement the banned words under the “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009” in 7 days. The letter circulated by the PTA says the mobile operators must also submit monthly reports on implementation of the ban. However, mobile operators deferred implementing the ban.

Wordle Image of the banned word list. Click on the image to enlarge.

The list was leaked and published online by Bytes for All (BFA), an Internet right group organization. BFA is ready to challenge the ban in the court. Bytes For All (BFA) expressed concern about unwarranted “moral policing” on Pakistanis:

We believe that this embarrassing and shameful directive by PTA is not all about banning abusive words; but about encouraging the act of moral policing by authorities.

Bytes for All fears that such efforts by PTA will boost and give place to booming filtering and monitoring industry, which is already a huge threat to the privacy rights of the citizens of Pakistan. We believe that with this filtering, the state can enforce its dictates by limiting or preventing access to its communications infrastructure but on the other hand violating the fundamental right of freedom of expression and access to information.

Words like “Jesus Christ” and “Satan” are also in the PTA list in the interest of the glory of Islam. Blogger Umair Tariq questions:

Sifting through these banned words, I discovered that even the word “Jesus Christ” might be forbidden, along with many other words of everyday usage. Why on earth has Jesus’s name been banned? Is it some kind of an abusive word? As much as rightists and McBurqas may like it, this list is totally ridiculous.

I want to ask the defenders of this list how they would have felt if the name of the Holy Prophet (SAW) was placed on a list of banned words elsewhere in the world.

Salim Khursheed Khokhar, a Christain MPA, protested against it in the Sindh Assembly, saying if the government block the word Jesus Christ it would be like depriving Christians of their religious rights.

Youth Awareness blog was the first to comment on the list:

What the fuck :O , Never been a fan of words like ROFL, LMAO, LOL etc etc……but if you go through the list of “supposedly”  banned words by the PTA you will literally be ROFLYAO (The Y stands for your instead of M for my). I won’t write anything just go through this and imagine what baboons are running this country.

Shivam Vij became the talk of the town after he published his article on Firstpost.com:

“The English list begins with “A.S.S.” and ends with “YELLOWMAN”. Some words sound harmless (“CRAP” and “CRAPPY”), others bizarre (“JESUS CHRIST”, “FLATULENCE”, “MURDER”, “MONKEY CROTCH”). Many are commonly used obscene words (“FUCK YOU”) and care has been taken to account for alternative spellings (“BIATCH”, “MUTHAFUCKA”). While many spelling variations of ‘masturbation’ are on it, the correct spelling is not. Most words seem to be designed to prevent ‘sexting’ or sending sexually explicit texts (“SEXY”, “LICK ME”, “DO ME”, “S&M”, “LOTION”, “PORN”). The list comes down on anal sex as much as vaginal sex. But it isn’t just sex. By banning “DRUNKEN” they perhaps hope to reduce alcoholism.”

Many social media activists came up with the idea of typing numbers rather than the whole curse or banned words. The Pakistani Twittersphere is full of funny and interesting tweets about the PTA list.

On the one hand Pakistan mobile operators are still in talks with the PTA over the list, and on the other hand, the leaked list has started a debate about the benchmark of obscenity, private space and telecommunication laws in the country. The coming days are crucial for both perspectives. It seems that this will only add more fire to the political turmoil the country is already facing.

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