Pakistan is on its way to becoming a proper democracy, but it’s a bumpy road. An elected government just completed its full term and handed over power to another elected government for the first time in the nation’s 66-year history as an independent state. As such, the country is anxious to do democratic things, such as allowing its citizens rights of free expression.
To that honorable end, the incoming minister for information technology and telecommunications, Anusha Rahman, announced on her first day in office that restoring access to YouTube is one of her “top priorities,” according to The News, a Pakistani newspaper. (YouTube access was blocked in the wake of the dreadful “Innocence of Muslims” video that caused riots in North Africa in September.) Blocking an entire site because of one video may sound like overkill, but the government assumed it was better than enduring loss of life. Other, older democracies have made similar moves and paid a price: In 2006, Indian censors blocked a slew of popular blogging sites, which drew sharp criticism from Indian bloggers and only raised their profile.
The problem with bans is that when they are withdrawn, they invite criticism from those who favor censorship. For example, Pakistan tried unblocking YouTube in December and erecting firewalls to block pornographic and blasphemous materials instead. That lasted three minutes, until right-leaning activists complained that there was still blasphemous content on the site.