Got the word a few hours ago. Without any notice, warning or explanation, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has blocked several progressive pages on Facebook. Interestingly, there is no bar on the pages spewing hatred and furthering the ideology of banned groups.
The blocked pages include Laal, the largest leftist page in South Asia with over 408,000 followers. The other pages include those that post largely in Urdu and therefore reach large numbers, like:
Roshni – blocked for the third time – as well as other pages that provide an important counter-narrative to right-wing propaganda, like Zalaan,Bhensaa,Pakistani Meem, Lashkar-e-Bhangvi, Taliban Are Zalimans and Saeenji.
Says Dr Taimur Rahman: “We have been running this page since 2009 when we started the band. And over the last five years it grew to become a very central hub for progressive ideas, especially with respect to the struggle against extremism and the Taliban. At our best we engaged over 100,000 people a week and our total viral reach would even cross 2 million people in a week. We were adding up to 12,000 people to our wall on a weekly basis at our best. Even working at average efficiency unto 40-50,000 people would write on our wall every week and a couple our total viral reach was always in hundreds of thousands. Without any doubt, it was the largest network that the left in Pakistan had been able to build in our times.
“Not only did we bring you entertainment, music, and jokes, we brought you lectures on philosophy, posts about the labour movement, women’s emancipation, struggles against national oppression, democratic movements, and so much else. Whether people agreed or disagreed with our philosophy or arguments, every democratic and progressive minded individual respected the efforts of the band and the group to educate young people in the spirit of progressive politics.
“Nor was this page only accessed by the rich and infamous. In fact, thanks to our hard fought grassroots activism we had factory workers, trade unions, peasant associations, even bhatta workers on our page. They would not write but they would always check the page for news and information about struggles. It was genuinely reaching out to the masses that we wish to organise.”But sadly this seemed to have been too much for our masters. The page today is accessible to all those who are outside of Pakistan but if you are using the internet from within Pakistan (and that was 90% of our members) any attempt to access Laal will just bring you back to your own newsfeed. Almost like it simply does not exist.”There has been no official notification. There has been no warning. There hasn’t even been a letter or an email of warning. They didn’t say, we don’t like the support your giving the Baloch, or your opposition to Islamic extremism. They didn’t say communism has been banned in Pakistan since 1954. They didn’t even send a tanga to pick me up and take me to the police station like they did with Faiz and Hameed Aktar sahib.
“But fikir not. We are not the type of people who are easily dissuaded from our revolutionary goals and progressive politics by such dirty tactics. Vo Faiz sahib nay kya khoob kaha tha key:
“Matah e loh o qalam chin gaye tu kya gham hai.
“Keh khoon e dil main dobo li hain ungliya mainay.”
“So there is no question of losing hope,” says Taimur Rahman. The plan of action he outlines is firstly, that supporters should click “follow” on his Facebook profile so “I can continue to disturb you guys with our progressive ideas and remind you again and again that we need to do something about the world in which we live.”
Laal will restart the page “even if we have to start from one member, and we will rebuild it not only to its former glory but even beyond.”
They also appeal to supporters to share this information “so that everyone knows the dirty trick that PTA has played on the left in Pakistan.”
As Taimur says: there is a need “to turn the tide of this reactionary onslaught in Pakistan” and “work together in an organised manner. Help us out my friends. We cannot do this alone. We need your support and solidarity. Not just in words but more importantly in deeds. We need an organised left in Pakistan. Not the inchoate informal network of personal friends that we continuously rely on whenever something goes wrong. You all know how its organised. I don’t need to tell you. If we get organised, things will get better.”