WordPress once again helps the Pakistani government block my “blasphemous” Jesus and Mo posts

I think this must be the third time that WordPress has cooperated with the Pakistani government in blocking “blasphemous” content on my site. The blasphemy, as you’ll see from the three links singled out, involves reproducing Jesus and Mo cartoons, which have apparently hurt the feelings of Muslims. Indeed, I seem to have committed a crime.

Here’s the letter from WordPress, with the Pakistani complaint below:

Hello,

A Pakistan authority has demanded that we disable the following content on your WordPress.com site:

https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/2012-03-14.png?w=1000
https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/2012-10-31.png
https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/2015-02-25.png?w=522&h=522

Unfortunately, we must comply to keep WordPress.com accessible for everyone in the region. As a result, we have disabled this content only for Internet visitors originating from Pakistan. They will instead see a message explaining why the content was blocked.

Visitors from outside of Pakistan are not affected.

You and your readers may be interested in these suggestions for bypassing Internet restrictions.

For your reference, we have included a copy of the complaint. No reply is necessary, but please let us know if you have any questions.

The complaint:

Dear WordPress Team,

It is highlighted that few of the web pages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous / Hate Speech. The same have also been declared blasphemous under Pakistan Penal Code section 295, 295A, 295B, 295C and is in clear violation of Section 11 and 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan.

Keeping above in view, It is requested to please support in removing following URL’s from your platform at earliest please. The below mentioned websites can be found on following URL’s:- […] 47.

    1. https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/2015-02-25.png?w=522&h=522
    2. https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/2012-10-31.png
    3. https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/2012-03-14.png?w=1000

Looking forward for your prompt response please.

Regards
Web Analysis Team
+92 51 9214396

Once again I object to WordPress’s complicity in blocking material at the behest of the Pakistani government, which means that WordPress, despite its purported free-speech policy, is exercising censorship at a government’s request. They do this, of course, because they don’t want Pakistan shutting down WordPress sites—that would cost the company money! I guess I think that some principles are more important than profit.

28 Comments

  1. Posted May 20, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    WordPress, despite its purported free-speech policy, is exercising censorship at a government’s request.

    Maybe this is a stupid question but do you think anybody at WordPress checked to make sure this “Web Analysis Team” really is part of the Pakistan government and not just some vigilante group?

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted May 20, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      The least that WordPress could have done would have been to challenge this ‘web analysis team’s credentials and actual authority in a Pakistani court.

    • Bruce Lilly
      Posted May 20, 2019 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      A search for the telephone number (92 51 9214396) yields exact matches for a number of complaints about the complaints, and a close match (92 51 9214398) for the Law & Regulation Division/Directorate of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ( https://www.pta.gov.pk/en/contact-us ).

      So it appears likely to be an official branch of the Pakistani government.

      Under “Consumer Support” -> “Consumer Services” -> “Report Blasphemous URL” is
      “Please report Blasphemous URLs by email at info@pta.gov.pk“.

  2. GBJames
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. rickflick
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    “some principles are more important than profit”

    The principle that Pakistan needs to know there are critics of religion is probably one of the most important principles, based on the level of intolerance we’ve seen there over the years.

  4. Divalent
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I’m curious what exactly those in Pakistan are shown when they try to access the blocked page. Does it say something generic, like “you are not allowed to see this content.”?

    Or is it something reveals the details? Like: “The Pakistani government Web Analysis team has forbidden their citizens from viewing this content. Because you are accessing this site from a Pakistani IP, we are forced to block your access to it.”

    • rickflick
      Posted May 20, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      And perhaps,… “You are now identified as a suspicious person and your name will be placed on a watch list”.

    • Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Or it just might not connect, or it might redirect to a friendly mosque, or … There are many possibilities.

  5. Posted May 20, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As a pragmatist, I am torn on this. On the one hand, I’d like to see WordPress call the Pakistan government’s bluff and see if it would ban all WordPress sites. On the other hand, I think of the Pakistanis reading this site and know that they learn a lot even without the J&M cartoons. I’d hate to see them deprived of learning the truth about evolution.

  6. Bruce Lilly
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Several remarks:
    1. As noted by some commenters the last time this issue came up, Pakistan must have a heck of a backlog if they’re just now getting to things posted 7 years ago.
    2. WordPress’ “suggestions for bypassing Internet restrictions” aren’t particularly helpful. So:
    2a (suggestion for readers): go to https://archive.org/web/ and type in the URL (as listed in the complaint) and select an archive date. Unless archive.org is blocked or submits to pressure from Pakistan, there’s the content.
    2b (for readers): use Google, search for the title (e.g. Jesus ‘n’ Mo on coffee versus beer) and view the cached version (via the little arrow next to the URL).
    2c (for authors): include (as text) a link to the specific original content (e.g. http://www.jesusandmo.net/comic/cafe/ ). It would be difficult for anybody to claim that there is anything “blasphemous” about the text content of the URL. Readers can use WordPress’ suggestions or the ones above to access that content. As a bonus, readers get comments and discussion at the original site in addition to WEIT.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    The internet platforms are going to walk a difficult line in the future, more so than now. Certainly there is nothing difficult about wordpress and their poor decision here but on other matters it gets much worse. How much false and blatant lying is to be allowed on facebook or twitter. Who’s job to get it off of there. Russian propaganda to affect our elections are a place to start. We like to proclaim free speech for all but that does not work either. Myanmar is a good example – just a few years ago thousands of people were killed because of actions taken and spread on facebook.

    • Posted May 20, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes. This is the future of the internet, and this is why it will be like that.

  8. FB
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what would happen if a secular organization asked WordPress to disable some content from an Islamic website because it offends unbelievers, or apostates. Would they do it? If not, what’s the rationale? Only countries can demand censorship?

  9. Mike Anderson
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    There’s a fairly easy solution to this. Just unhook your site from wordpress.com. You’d lose your existing URL, and that would be a hassle, but you can still use wordpress software outside of wordpress.com.

    • Mike Anderson
      Posted May 20, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      re: “you’d lose your existing URL”

      You’d give up whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com but you’d have /whyevolutionistrue.com.

    • Posted May 21, 2019 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      But it would cost a lot more money, plus Jerry would have the hassle of managing his own web server.

      • Mike Anderson
        Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think so. It costs about $100 per year for a basic hosting service that supports WordPress. How much does wordpress.com charge?

        • Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          I suspect that WEIT would quickly blow the resource limits for a basic hosting service.

          • Mike Anderson
            Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Doubt it. This is a very low-bandwidth site.

            • Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

              Do you really think so? What is your basis for saying that?

              • Mike Anderson
                Posted May 21, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                The payload of this page is less than half a meg (average web page is 3 meg) and the site’s Alexa ranking is over 100k (lower means more traffic).

                Granted it’s just my seat of the pants estimate but I think a basic budget hosting service would handle it easily.

        • Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          A WordPress personal account costs £4 per month. That gives you a domain and up to6Gb of space. A Blogger account is even cheaper and gives you everything except a domain.

          I can’t say what level Jerry’s account is, but given that WordPress will manage email and backups and software patching for you as well as providing unlimited storage at a price (£20/month), I’d say this is a good deal compared to a basic hosting site at $100/year unless you you value your time at about $0/hour.

      • Mike Anderson
        Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        >> plus Jerry would have the hassle of managing his own web server.

        Yes, there might be more hassle, but not much. The budget hosting services have the WordPress game well polished these days.

  10. Steve Gerrard
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Censorship is censorship, of course. But there is something puzzling here about the choice and number of cartoons to censor. This site has hundreds of them linked, and the censors seem to pick out just a few old ones, some of which are scarcely blasphemous at all.

    How is the beer and coffee cartoon (2012-03-14) blasphemous? Yet they did not pick out this one, which seems to me far more blasphemous:
    http://www.jesusandmo.net/comic/aisha/

    I wonder if they are scanning some other source for links to these, such as emails or tweets or facebook posts. It doesn’t make much sense as a campaign to weed out blasphemous cartoons. I don’t think anyone on either end of the process is actually looking at the content.

    Maybe the censors just do a few to keep their job, and WordPress blocks them to keep them happy, since it is such a small percentage and not worth creating an incident over. Or maybe the censors want an incident, and WordPress doesn’t want to oblige them?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      I suspect they only respond to complaints received. Hence the erratic nature of their bans – some Pakistani has happened to come across some WEIT/J&M cartoon and bothers to complain to the censor’s office.

      I note they haven’t so far complained about any of the other content on WEIT, some of which, I would have thought, was far more offensive to Muslims than the occasional J&M cartoon.

      cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:31 am | Permalink

      And, incidentally, I doubt the censors want an incident. If they did, they could come up with a swag of WEIT pages to ban. I suspect they’re just doing the routine job they get paid for, and like most people, they don’t want to make trouble for themselves.

      (In contrast, just compare the zeal of the SJW left in seeking out the most trivial infractions to take offence over).

      cr

  11. Charles Sawicki
    Posted May 20, 2019 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Pakistan has a large number of reasonable Muslims, but enough of the insanely religious that I would never visit.

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 21, 2019 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    “They do this, of course, because they don’t want Pakistan shutting down WordPress sites—that would cost the company money!”

    I agree that if WP refused to censor those few pages, the Pakistani censors would probably retaliate by blocking the whole of WEIT – including all the posts on biology and evolution. Can someone explain to me how that would benefit anyone in Pakistan?

    cr


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