Queer Voices

Pakistan Text Message Ban Includes 'Homosexual,' 'Lesbian,' And Other LGBT Relevant Words

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's ban on 1,600 words deemed "pornographic or offensive to Islam" has flabbergasted much of the international media. Now, many global gay rights advocates are drawing attention to the number of LGBT-related words on the black list.

Among the words the country's telecom authority has banned from use in text messages: "gay," "lesbian," "homosexual," "fairy" and "condom." While many of those should come as no surprise familiar with Pakistan's laws, others are considerably more questionable: athlete's foot, deposit, glazed donut, Jesus Christ, Satan and "flogging the dolphin." You can view one heavily-circulated list of the reportedly banned words here.

Many free speech advocates say they are outraged by the list, describing it as a clear directive to censor mobile phone traffic. "It has actually embarrassed and shamed us a lot. This is outrageous," said Shahzad Ahmad, Pakistan country director for the digital free speech advocacy, Bytes for All. "I don't know how and why PTA had so much time [or] how much effort they have put in to compile this stupid list without realizing what kind of impact it will have on the whole communication infrastructure, which is already pretty pathetic."

Still, reports over the ban's implementation remain heavily conflicting. Newsweek Pakistan reports mobile operators have postponed implementing the ban, saying they needed further clarification, but that it could take place within a week’s time. Meanwhile, Voice of America quotes a spokesman as saying (via a translator) that "the list should never have been made public, explaining it was meant to be kept between PTA and mobile phone companies as a means to find out whether it was possible to filter obscene messages. He said a final, shorter list of banned words will be released later, after consultation with phone companies."

Still, it's hardly the first time Pakistan has cracked down on social media outlets. The country blocked Facebook in 2010 in the wake of a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed, and in 2008 banned YouTube during a similar outcry against cartoons of Mohammed.