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Step Down or Die 150 Pakistan Leaders Get Death Threats in Text Messages Ban

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Threats of killing aren't exactly new in Pakistan--these just happen to be over text messages. Pakistan Telecommunications Agency wants (what it considers) offensive or obscene texts knocked out. It says 1695 words aren't acceptable. In response, roughly 10% of those banned words now equal a death threat. 150 members have been told to step down--or die.
Not one, not two, but 150 members of Pakistan’s parliament, provincial assemblies and senate have received those nasty texts pertaining to possible death.
Pakistan isn't exactly known for its general freedoms. But it seems everyone has their limits -- and a limit on written content isn't going over well with the general populace.
Since (what was thought to be) the November 21, 2011, start of a text messaging ban on cell phone texts including "obscenities" like gas, 150 politicians and leaders have now received anonymous text messages threatening their safety. Those texts were simple and to the point -- basically demanding liberty or death. That is, death of those responsible.
SMS messages demanded recipients resign, or be killed.
It was just days ago on November 21 that Pakistan Telecommunications Agency (PTA for short), the agency governing telecommunications within the country, wanted to ban a list of nearly 2000 words and phrases. Whether considered "offensive" or "obscene" by the agency, the result was the same: Messages were to be marked undeliverable. They wouldn't be received.
Just 7 days was given to mobile service providers to prepare and implement changes. The list of the banned included the obvious, the semi-obvious -- and simply the inexplicable. Then things went downhill.
It seems to have posed a difficult task for cell service providers to suddenly be monitoring millions and millions of messages individually -- trying to delete those containing any of 1695 words or phrases the agency decided it doesn't like. Technical issues and problems happened the very first day of implementation. Now government officials are claiming there was no first day of implementation.
Now a spokesman for Pakistan's leading telecoms service references an either new or different plan: “Obviously there are concerns and we have some reservations,” says Omar Manzur, spokesman for Mobilink. It seems there's been a change or two. “This regulation [of text messages considered offensive or obscene] will be implemented only after mutual agreement between the PTA and us [Mobilink]. We should wait until the end of this discussion." Apparently that is 'end of discussion' -- for now.
An MP from northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mentioned death threats aren't exactly out of the norm in Pakistan: “It is a routine, we get so many threats, but our institutions are tackling this issue very well."
In a nation not absent of death, Pakistani leaders seem to be taking what isn't quite so uncommon -- when it applies to one politician or two -- seriously. This just happened to apply to more than one. Each member of Pakistan’s parliament, provincial assemblies or senate who was threatened via SMS message represents nine to 10 newly-banned words. Yeah, the amount of people issued death threats is nearly 10% of the words slated for text ban.
Pakistani politicians kind of have reason to be concerned: Taliban and Al-Qaeda members are notoriously responsible for killing -- members thought linked to thousands who have been killed in the past four years, including responsibility in the death of Pakistani politicians.
But the PTA seems intent on maintaining an appearance of power. The agency claims there is no missed deadline -- denying that Monday, November 21, marked any official deadline for a message ban. The government agency is citing the fact that messages containing those words were still being transmitted by mobile service providers on November 21. See? No problem. Except that at least one mobile service provider had already issued a previous statement at the time -- indicating that, yes, those "offensive" or "obscene" messages were still going through. But the reason differs from what the PTA is now presenting. When the cell phone service companies mentioned those continued transmissions, the rep indicated the reason had to do with network issues or problems in implementing that kind of filtering -- in that volume -- immediately.
The PTA's version is that the continued transmissions had to do with absence of a deadline -- not the impression provided to worldwide media outlets, told the deadline was going into effect 7 days after the November 14 communication to the telecommunications service companies. But the PTA's claim is now this: “There were two weekly holidays on 19 and 20 November (Saturday and Sunday) and there are still two days left to complete this seven-day period,” according to Mohammad Younis Khan. That's right, everything's right on schedule. Or that's what the PTA would like the world to believe.
Simultaneously Younis Khan admits to “reservations” of the involved telecommunications companies that were effectively forced into the new filtering of the "obscene" -- companies that also received a letter, along with a huge list of newly-banned words, claiming the PTA move to be legal under the Pakistan Telecommunication Act of 1996 which prohibits people from transmitting messages that are “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene”.
The letter accompanying the list of banned words said the move was legal under the Pakistan Telecommunication Act of 1996 which prohibits people from transmitting messages that are “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene”. Surprisingly it's taken more than one day but, not surprisingly, the attempt by the PTA is being legally challenged. It's unclear whom may be alive by any trial time but campaign group 'Bytes' is challenging ready to fight it out in court -- saying “a new, ruthless wave of moral policing” is a violation of rights, free speech and privacy. No kidding. The group also mentions the text messaging ban has made a mockery of the country. No kidding.
No matter the country, it seems attorneys earn their keep.


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