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“Jesus Christ” among words banned from text messages in Pakistan for being "false, fabricated, indecent or obscene"

Country/Region: South and East Asia, Pakistan

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has banned “Jesus Christ” from use in text messages, among a list of terms deemed “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene”.

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The PTA wrote to Pakistani mobile phone companies on 14 November ordering them to start blocking messages containing nearly 1,700 banned words and expressions. The letter accompanying the dictionary of terms said that the move was legal under the Pakistan Telecommunication Act (1996), which prohibits people from transmitting messages that are “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene”. It also stated that free speech can be restricted “in the interest of the glory of Islam”.

Christians have reacted angrily to the inclusion of “Jesus Christ” on the list, which features obscenities and sexual references.

Joseph Dias, general secretary of a South Asian Christian human rights group, said:

One wonders why gods of other religions have not been mentioned in the list and Christians, who are already facing persecution in Pakistan, have been singled out for such treatment.

Screening was meant to begin within seven days of the letter, but this has been deferred after the move was met with widespread derision and a threat of legal action.

The Pakistani campaign group Bytes For All (BFA) said that it will challenge the PTA’s order in court, describing it as “a new, ruthless wave of moral policing” that violated rights to free speech and privacy.

The BFA also said:

If such a thing happened in any other country, there would be an outrage already and if it was directed (mistakenly or intentionally) towards Muslims, the amount of outrage would be uncontrollable.

The PTA has previously blocked websites deemed pornographic or offensive to Islam, but this is its first attempt to censor text messages. A spokesman for the PTA said the ban was a reaction to consumers’ complaints of receiving offensive text messages.

It is the latest insult to Pakistani Christians, who are severely persecuted and marginalised because of their faith.

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

The inclusion of the name of Jesus Christ within this list of offensive words is another example of the intense hatred that resonates within Pakistan towards Christians.

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