A recent plan by authorities in Pakistan to an introduce Internet blocking and filtering system has been attracting widespread criticism, not just from local and foreign media watchdogs but also from rights activists and human rights organisations over the past few weeks.

According to The Express Tribune newspaper, Pakistan’s National ICT R&D Fund, a division of the Ministry of Information Technology, on February 22, 2012 called for proposals for the development, deployment and operation of a national level URL Filtering and Blocking System. The report, available here, reads: “The filtering and blocking system will function as a firewall for the entire country and will have the potential to block the access of any specific URL throughout the country.”

“Reporters Without Borders”, a non-governmental organization which defends journalists and fights censorship, in its report issued on the eve of World Day against Cyber Censorship on March 12 asked the Pakistani authorities to abandon this project maintaining it would result in the creation of an Electronic Great Wall. “If they go ahead, Pakistan could be added to the Enemies of the Internet in 2013,” reads the report.

On March 13 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also strongly reacted to the proposed plan of the government and termed it a move to further restrict freedom of expression, creativity and peaceful thought on the Internet.

In a statement the HRCP chairperson Ms Zohra Yusuf said, “Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan; 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked. On November 14, 2011, authorities requested mobile operators to censor the content of SMS and ban 1,600 words and expressions. Over the last summer, operators received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance.”

According to the statement available on the HRCP website the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the HRCP requested the government of Pakistan “to put on hold the set-up of the filtering system and ensure that the measure does not end up institutionalizing Internet censorship and surveillance and is consistent with Pakistan’s obligation to protect the freedom of expression.”