Pakistan: Islamists want restrictions on cyber cafes

Gulf News, February 17, 2003	 

MMA wants to close down cyber cafes
Lahore |By Abdullah Iqbal | 17-02-2003

At a time when, on the orders of the federal minister for information 
technology, the Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation Ltd (PTCL) is 
filtering the Internet for anti-Pakistan and pornographic material, 
resulting in drastically reduced speed for Internet Service Providers 
(ISPS) and users across the country, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal 
(MMA) said it would like to see cyber cafes banned.

With home computers still in limited use because of their cost, most 
Internet users rely on cafes, which now exist in even small towns and 
villagers. As such, a closure of these cafes would drastically reduce 
Internet usage.

Commenting on this, a spokesman for the MMA in Lahore said: "We think 
in cafes the Internet is not used for education, but only for 
recreation or immoral activity, so this would not adversely impact 

He also held that while the move to filter the Internet was "good" it 
was not enough and more needed to be done.

With information technology experts already warning that the PTCL 
attempts to filter the Internet will "never be entirely successful" 
and will only "hamper users and companies due to poor connectivity 
and speed," they fear more moves against Internet usage will affect 
the IT industry "even more negatively".

One web-developer, Adam Hasan, said: "Already we are suffering due to 
these misguided censorship efforts which will never work  and now the 
MMA wants to make things still worse."

Last week, the MMA-led government banned children from entering cyber 
cafes in Balochistan.

At a meeting with Internet cafe owners, Minister for Information and 
Local Government in Balochistan, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed Sharodi, ordered 
that entry of children should be strictly prohibited to protect them 
from exposure to pornographic websites on the Internet.

He warned that the government would take stringent action against 
cafe owners found guilty of violating the ban.

A similar ban is expected in the NWFP, where the MMA is in 
government, while the coalition is also pressurising governments in 
the other provinces to enforce the restriction on children and to 
discourage Internet use.

According to a recent survey, Pakistan boasts around three million 
regular Internet users. More than 1,000 cities and small towns in 
Pakistan have been enjoying access to the Net as of June  2002.

Apart from e-mail and chatting, pornographic material and film sites 
on the web were the biggest draw among all age groups. 

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