Last month I did a Networked NGO training in Dubai for Pakistan NGOs where I experienced Internet censorship first hand. The government blocks certain sites, including access to any group organizing features on social sites (shared photo pools for example), skype out, and tools like VPNs that can help you get around government censors. Eventually, I was able to install a VPN and get to the sites I wanted to use.
This week will be our first peer call to follow up from the training which included strategy development and learning best practices for tools like Twitter. Unfortunately, yesterday, the Pakistan government decided to block Twitter – after we had just gotten everyone comfortable tweeting!
According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the request to block the site was made by the Ministry of Information and Technology, because of a drawing competition (details here). The ministry asked Twitter to remove the content, but Twitter responded that it “cannot stop any individual doing anything of this nature on the website.” Directives to block the site were sent to ISPs in several parts of the country, including PTCL Broadband and Wi-Tribe. It also reports that Twitter is still accessible by mobile using secure browsers like Opera, as well as proxies and VPNs. More from GlobalVoices.
The coverage in TechCrunch came about when activists in Pakistan wrote to major social media sites about the block. Waqas Ali, who is Lahore, sent TechCrunch a screenshot of the blocked Twitter. According to TechCrunch, Ali has also played a role in a past campaign in the country to keep Facebook from getting banned.
The block did not last long. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani made the decision to restore access to Twitter. More from TechCrunch and the Washington Post.
My colleague, Stephanie Rudat, who is working with me on the project, and I decided that the we needed to “How To Get Past Internet Censorship” review. Stephanie put together this awesome resource list of services.