July 13, 2010

Facing cyber censorship in Pakistan

By Ghulam Rehman

“Who will publish your story—who will believe you?” This was what those criminal minds, who wanted to strangulate our entire family, had told my elder brother. Thanks to the cyber age that the news of our suffering not only reached the nation but also the entire world.

There is nothing for hackers in The Terrorland group blog, which is, currently, focusing on the sufferings of a journalist and his family members. This blog is just like a lifeline for the family which is under overt and covert attacks. If we had not this facility to tell the world our story, the "journalistic cartel" in the country with the help of secret agencies and other networks would have strangulated us so far—and no body would have doubted them as they had spent months to execute their criminal plan in a foolproof way! But, as they say, man proposes but God disposes!

However, now, this blog has become a victim of cyber censorship. It's really shocking for all those who believe in democracy, human rights, freedom of thought and expression. We’ve found a voice in the cyberspace but the rogue authorities want to suppress it. I don't know what is the real task of the anti-cyber crimes department in our country?!

The moderators are facing problem to operate this blog. The blog doesn't open often. Whenever the moderators try to update the blog, after entering the user ID and passwords, the Dashboard of unwanted blogs appear suddenly, and access to the original blog is denied. The blog can't be operated on the internet protocol level for hours. Sometimes certain posts and comments – critical of the establishment and accused – remain invisible.

The hacked Dashboard is often filled with a group of blog as you may see in the photograph here.

In this way this blog remains out of reach of the moderators. It's frustrating for all of us including family members, relatives, friends, well-wishers and regular blog visitors in our country. Counterfeit blogs often replace The Terrorland blog. They change every time. These cyber harassers are using Pakistani IDs.
There're problems to access social networks as well, especially the Facebook, Twitter and The Terrorland Google Group. While using the Facebook, often the ID changes spontaneously. My account is suddenly replaced by someone else’s. “Authentication failure,” this appears on the screen when I try to operate my own account. Thus one is unable to operate ones own account on the Facebook and Twitter.

We’ve observed that there are fake accounts using the names of our family members. We doubt they’re being abused. An email account was hacked recently. Our family's email accounts are interrupted continuously. Sometimes mails disappear from the inbox—sometimes they just appear for a second and then disappear again—they can't be seen at all again or are shown below or in the middle of the old emails later on—I think all of our emails are being filtered that’s why we don’t get many emails from friends.

Besides the websites and emails, our telephones are also being bugged. My brother complained to the cellular company in an email on April 13, 2010.

Dear Sir,

As a subscriber of Telenor Pakistan (Cell: 03459724909), I’m shocked that my phone is being bugged. Text messages from my family members are being edited before reaching me and some SMS disappear unexpectedly from my Inbox although there is no problem of space. This is in violation of the laws and not expected from a multinational firm like Telenor.


Habib R. Sulemani
Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Soon a ‘smart’ guy from the company contacted my brother on his cell phone but my brother sought answers in the form of an email. And then there was a tricky response on April 14, 2010.

Dear Mr. Sulemani,

Thank you for writing to Telenor. With reference to your email hereunder and as per our subsequent telephonic conversation, we would like to inform you that your stated apprehensions aren’t technically possible. During our conversation, we also couldn’t acquire/conceive any concrete rationale behind your apprehensions. We hope our comment answers your concerns.

Moreover, please feel free to contact us whenever you think we can be of any assistance. We shall be more than delighted to hear from you!

Najam Riaz
Customer Relations
Telenor Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd.
The Mall, Lahore.
My brother immediately replied.

Dear Mr. Riaz,

I had not a long conversation or reasoning “during our (telephonic) conversation” so how could “we acquire/conceive any concrete rationale”. I faced the problem for days and had asked to write me how bugging was not possible technically.


Habib R. Sulemani

Then there was another phone call explaining that they were helpless to stop the secret agencies from bugging calls and messages. When my brother demanded that the company should write the reason in written. The man excused showing his helplessness, but later wrote this "technical" email.

Dear Mr. Sulemani,

Thank you for writing to Telenor and having brought your concern into our notice. With reference to your e-mail hereunder and as per our telephonic conversation on 03459724909 regarding the issue mentioned hereunder. Pertinent to the same, please be informed that your concern has been completely addressed on the phone call.

Furthermore, we have noted down your concerns in this regard. Nonetheless, we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused in the due course.

Moreover, please feel free to contact us whenever you think we can be of any assistance. We shall be more than delighted to hear from you!

Best Regards,

Muhammad Mustanser Yaqoob
Customer Relations
Telenor Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd.
The Mall, Lahore.

Similarly, on May 28, 2010 my brother complained to the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), saying that our landline phone at home was being bugged. There was an automatic acknowledgement, however, the PTCL authorities didn’t bother to address this issue. There is no response since then. We’re at the mercy of a bunch of tricky people with their tricky games. These sadistic guys neither care about the professional ethics nor the laws of the land!

On June 16, 2010 we started using the PTCL broadband internet service, but the connectivity is more or less like that of the dialup connection. We’ve complained on the phones: 051-2505194 & 1218 but no official has bothered to solve the problem.

Our suffering has proved that Pakistanis are basically gentle, honest, loving, hospitable and peaceful people but our establishment is the real bad guy that has earned us a bad name globally! Let’s be clear: we’ve nothing to hide. We’re an open book. We’re not afraid of the harassing tricks, but they’re in violation of the laws and basic human rights. No one can stop us from fighting for our basic human rights in this oppressive society! We'll fight until we get our due rights according to the Constitution of our beloved country.

(Photos by The Terrorland Team)


  1. As the collapse of the 'missing persons' trial shows, our judges have little clout when it comes to dealing with Pakistan's secret agencies. The judiciary is being weakened further by the machinations of criminals holding powerful positions in the government. In these circumstances, recourse to courts may not be a realistic option.

    That leaves appealing to journalists of integrity. You have mentioned Ansar Abbasi's name but it is not clear if he has been able to offer any assistance. I would also suggest approaching Haroon-ur-Rasheed, Rauf Klasara and Javed Chaudhry.

    Is Google aware of what is happening to your account? It has a duty to protect its customers' accounts and to put them beyond the reach of hackers.

    How about our celebrated human rights activists, especially Ms Jahangir and Ms Minallah? Are they aware of what is going on and have they made any protests?

  2. It seems that the way our establishment is a slave of the outside forces, so are the many institutions and corporations slave to establishment. This is visible every where in Pakistan. Even educational institutions act like the secret agencies; supporting whole heartedly that promote their agenda and thus the agenda of the establishment, and straight forward denying and suppressing things that contradict their agenda, even if they have to harass the citizens.

    I hope things get better.

  3. Mr. Sakib Ahmad!

    Mr. Sulemani has no contact with the investigative reporter. Necessary measures are being taken regarding safety of emails and blog etc. Thanks for your suggestions and comments.

  4. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Ms. Asma Jahangir both are silent, like the government. They were contacted several times during the last four months. Many other rights groups are acting in the same way.