MobileActivism in action: Pakistanis turn to internet amid crackdown on media, protests

Pakistanis are taking their fight against US poodle Pervez Musharaff to the internet in the face of mounting attacks on press freedom and free assembly. This is new media taken to a level infinitely higher than the mad drive to raise Page Ranks or shore up Google Adsense earnings.

Musharaff’s muzzling of the press and the consequent ban on rallies have compelled Pakistani’s to be more creative and more daring, and the internet has become a virtual campaign center where protests are announced and vital news are spread for all the world to see.

Agence France Presse came out with a good report on the Pakistani people’s internet-savvy campaign for democracy. Here are excerpts:

The most popular Facebook protest group for Pakistan is “We Oppose Emergency in Pakistan”, which had 11,471 members as of Sunday.

One of its members announces a candlelight vigil in Lahore, giving just a few hours’ notice.

“This is the time when we the future of the country can act. It is our future that is in jeopardy and it’s our country that needs our support,” says the Facebook user.

The group has links to protest blogs, pictures of rallies and a mass petition (http://www.gopetition.com/online/15064.html) with nearly 16,000 signatures calling for the restoration of the constitution.

Users can also click on videos showing the final transmission by Geo, the country’s leading news channel, and a recording made in hiding by Khan before his arrest.

Another Facebooker posts a link from the group to his own petition to free Khan, who was detained by police on Wednesday while trying to ignite a student protest movement against Musharraf — although it has yet to be signed.

Pakistanis have also turned to blogs as a political tool, with one (http://emergencypk.blogspot.com/) being the major premier alert service for demonstrations.

The use of mobile phones, especially SMS, is not far behind, according to the York Daily Record:

Others circulate mobile phone text messages—perhaps one of the most effective means of dissent with more than 70 million cell phones nationwide, said Adnan Rehmat, who heads Internews Pakistan, a Washington-based media watchdog group.

“This is how people are really networking, expressing themselves,” he said. “People are sending messages of solidarity, relaying information about protest sites, that sort of thing.”

The blog The Emergency Times announced the start of a new era for Pakistan:

The protest yesterday at LUMS will go down as the dawn of a new era in this country’s history. It will, God Willing, mark the end of the debilitating cynicism and social apathy that has afflicted the people of this country and led to the crossroads we find ourselves at today. Even in the darkness that engulfs us, our voices are being heard, people are joining the movement. Even as we speak, civil society is organizing. Students from Punjab University, LSE, BNU, Quaid-e-Azam University, UET, GIKI, Bahria and others are all standing up in protest. The students have awoken. The rest of civil society is on its way, even as the political parties awake.

Attempting to fill the void created by the suppression of the press is the blog Pakistan Blackout which provided updates on protests led by lawyers, including a link to a video address by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. FAST Rising reports on a very recent protest vigil.

The blogger behind emergency2007.blogspot.com has gotten tired due perhaps to the pressures brought about by the emergency, but nevertheless maintains hopeful and states this by publishing and revising an old Pakistani protest chant:

The Students demand Freedom!
The Lawyers demand Freedom!

The Workers demand Freedom!
Newspapers demand Freedom!

The Peasants demand Freedom!
The Soldiers demand Freedom!
Imran demands Freedom!

From this Martial Law; Freedom!
From this Black General; Freedom!
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

For the blog The Emergency Times, this is the start of a new era for Pakistan:

The protest yesterday at LUMS will go down as the dawn of a new era in this country’s history. It will, God Willing, mark the end of the debilitating cynicism and social apathy that has afflicted the people of this country and led to the crossroads we find ourselves at today. Even in the darkness that engulfs us, our voices are being heard, people are joining the movement. Even as we speak, civil society is organizing. Students from Punjab University, LSE, BNU, Quaid-e-Azam University, UET, GIKI, Bahria and others are all standing up in protest. The students have awoken. The rest of civil society is on its way, even as the political parties awake.

Published by Academics for Freedom is an essay on how to help and how to understand the Pakistani situation.

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