The government of Pakistan, one of the most homophobic nations on earth, has blocked access to a website that would have been the first of its kind designed for the country’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. A spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), the government’s Internet watchdog, said that the “Queer Pakistan” (queerpk.com) website had sparked complaints from the public and that the contents of the site were contrary to the tenets of Islam. “We blocked the website under the law because its content was against Islam and norms of Pakistani society,” said PTA spokesman Kamran Ali, according to Agence France Presse. PTA has already banned thousands of websites, including YouTube last year.
The moderator of Queerpk.com, which commenced operation in July under the slogan “Don’t hate us, know us,” told the news agency that he would not challenge the ban in court out of fear of causing more trouble. “We wanted to provide a platform for people who are being abandoned by society because of their sexual [lives],” he told AFP. “I was not hopeful about the future of the website, I was convinced that sooner or later it would be banned.”
Indeed, homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan and those who are convicted of engaging in same-sex practices can be sent to jail for up to life. Theoretically, under the penal code, authorities could even impose the death penalty for homosexuality. CNN reported that curious Web-users in Pakistan who attempted to access the site since Wednesday’s ban were confronted by the following warning: "Surf Safely! This website is not accessible. The site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan."
Global activists condemned the Pakistani government for sealing off the website. "The government's blocking of Queerpk.com clearly violates internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression and non-discrimination, and should be lifted immediately," Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told CNN. "Pakistan's shuttering of this news portal shows how incredibly out of step Pakistan is with growing efforts by the United Nations to ensure rights protections for LGBT persons, including the strong public endorsement of LGBT rights given by none other than the U.N. Secretary-General himself. Pakistan's donors should get off the sidelines and publicly press the government to reverse this Internet censorship and permit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity to proceed unhindered."
But the site can still be accessed in other countries. "QueerPK is now accessible on new domain name http://humjins.com! We are determined to fight censorship if we have your support!" Queer Pakistan said in a Twitter message. Global Voices Online reported that during its two months, Queer Pakistan had up to 10,000 unique visitors.
The founders of Queer Pakistan claimed that its site included no offensive, blasphemous or pornographic content, but rather provided a forum for gay Pakistanis to discuss their lives and problems in a safe and anonymous fashion. “This [blocking] is completely illegal and [an] unconstitutional ban depriving a sizeable community from the right to information …” said a founder identified as ‘Fakhir,’ according to Pink News. “This was an anonymous website with decent informational content covering topics about safe-sex and other issues faced by country’s LGBT population and the government couldn’t tolerate it. … Imagine what would happen if we started talking about these topics openly?”
Fakhir added that he thought the Pakistani government would prefer that the gay population remain a “vulnerable community [at] high risk.” Ironically, according to Pink News, Pakistan leads the world in online gay porn searches and is believed to have a large secret underground gay community.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.