Media Defence Logo

CLOSE

YouTube – an internet freedom case that will impact on people throughout the Islamic world

YouTube – an internet freedom case that will impact on people throughout the Islamic world

As the director of human rights organisation Bytes for All, Shazad Ahmed has brought the banning of YouTube in Pakistan to the world’s attention. He claims he couldn’t have done it without our support: “I would say we owe it all to MLDI.”

The Pakistani government blocked YouTube in September 2012 on the grounds of protecting morality and restricting access to so-called blasphemous content. But research suggests that the block was politically motivated. The government didn’t want anyone to see a video of the military’s involvement in a land grab or a clip of the president telling members of the public to ‘shut up’ in the middle of a public speech.

The impact of the block has been huge. As well as the violation of the human right to seek and receive information, there is the day-to-day impact on people’s development and well-being. The Virtual University, for example, relied on YouTube to provide thousands of free lectures to those who want to educate themselves in their spare time. Since the blocking, all these opportunities have been taken away – ultimately hindering the development of Pakistanis and the country as a whole.

Bytes for All worked with pro-bono lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani and lodged a challenge against the block in the High Court of Lahore in January 2013. After the case had been stalled on numerous occasions Shahzad approached MLDI; “I knew we didn’t have the capacity to fight the case alone.”

We bolstered the case by bringing our  global perspective which complemented the local expertise of their lawyer and helped them form a rational, constitutional argument, moving the focus away from Pakistan’s complex blasphemy laws: “We were able to take stances that we wouldn’t have been confident about if MLDI hadn’t been backing us.”

Together we requested the urgent intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. The case attracted attention from around the world, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. “Working with MLDI, we were always more credible, always more authentic.”

After 20 hearings, in May 2014 the High Court of Lahore stated that YouTube should be unblocked. A technicality means that the case needs to go through the Supreme Court before the ban can be lifted.

Shahzad is optimistic that the ban will be lifted within the year. In the meantime, the case has proved a learning curve for the Pakistani courts. “Before this case, lawyers and judges didn’t know about how online censorship worked,” says Shahzad, “So it’s been a very useful process with a community of lawyers and judges having been educated on these issues.”

He also believes the case will help create internet freedom for people not just in Pakistan but throughout the Islamic world. “Pakistan is very influential and we have already devised a strategy for reaching out to other countries like Turkey, Egypt and Bahrain. I think what is happening here will have a very positive impact on internet censorship in the rest of the Islamic world.”

Recent Case Studies

Digital Rights Advocates: Interview with Zambian Lawyer Michelle Mwiinga

Welcome to the Digital Rights Advocates Blog Series, where we hear from lawyers litigating digital rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Digital rights have become indispensable for people around the world to exercise and enjoy their fundamental rights. Independent media is increasingly moving online – from established newspapers and television channels to bloggers and human rights activists […]

Read

Partners: How Human Rights Platform Has Used Strategic Litigation to Defend Press Freedom in Ukraine

Since 2017, Media Defence has worked in partnership with the Human Rights Platform (HRP), to provide legal defence to journalists and independent media in Ukraine and conduct strategic litigation on press freedom and freedom of expression. During the grant period, threats and attacks against journalists in Ukraine remained high. In particular, HRP noted an increase […]

Read

Partners: Hanifi Baris of TOHAV on Defending Press Freedom in Turkey

Welcome to the latest instalment of our ‘Partners’ blog series. In this series, we interview some of our partners from around the world about their crucial and fascinating work in freedom of expression. This time, our Legal and Grants Officer Emmanuel Vargas spoke to lawyer Hanifi Baris of TOHAV (Toplum ve Hukuk Araştırmaları Vakfı/Foundation for […]

Read