In a move that was on the cards, Pakistan’s government has banned the only website in the country openly calling itself a gay site and offering support and counseling to the Islamic nation’s endangered LGBTQ community.
Queer Pakistan, a fledgling website launched in July and hitting global headlines immediately, was blanket-blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the state authority responsible for filtering the Internet in Pakistan.
The ban was enforced Tuesday, just weeks after media reports that government officials were aware of the site’s existence and were mulling how to react to it.
“This is a completely illegal and unconstitutional ban depriving a sizeable community of the right to information,” said the founder of the project, who had been using the name Fakhir to protect his identity as homosexuality is punishable with imprisonment or even death.
The PTA is empowered to assess and blanket-ban any website it deems blasphemous or pornographic, a sweeping power that has resulted in thousands of websites being banned since September 2012, including YouTube.
“QueerPK has neither blasphemous not pornographic content,” Fakhir said, reacting to the ban.
It was largely focused on advising the anonymous community of gay men, most of whom suffered social or family persecution, depression and a killing sense of isolation.
At least one person unburdening his heart to the website had confessed feeling suicidal.
The fledgling site also emphasized the importance of safe sex and using condoms, an essential precaution to prevent the spread of HIV, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, given the low level of awareness in Pakistan and the reluctance of the state and society to discuss such issues.
However, the resourceful website, anticipating it could face a ban, has put into a contingency plan into action, diverting visitors to the blocked site to a new one, Humjins.com, within seven minutes.
Humjins.com is also the title of Queer Pakistan’s upcoming gay e-zine, magazine.
Queer Pakistan was an underground website providing information on safe sex and other issues faced by Pakistan’s LGBT population; yet the government couldn’t tolerate it, Fakhir said.
“Imagine what would happen if we started talking about these topics openly!”
In Pakistan, even discussing sexuality is taboo.
“Clearly, the government would rather have men who have sex with men and the LGBT population as a vulnerable community at high risk rather than let them educate themselves,” Fakhir said.
The rights of minorities remain in jeopardy in Pakistan. This week, it hit the headlines for suicide bomb blasts in front of a church in Peshawar, killing over 80 people at mass and injuring more than 100.
Fakhir said that only last month, PTA spokesperson Kamran Ali had announced that the government was examining the contents of Queer Pakistan and would block it if they were found to be objectionable.
Fakhir said he would continue to fight the ban.
“We are determined to create as many mirrors/clones of the website as necessary,” he said. “We won’t let the PTA get away without a fight!”