Global Politics

Pakistan Bans Certain Words in Text Messages

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Texting (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Authorities in Pakistan are set to implement a plan that they say will clamp down on unsolicited spam mobile phone text messages.

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They have compiled a list of banned words, and ordered telecom companies to filter all text messages containing any of them.

The order and the list of words have become a target of both ridicule and criticism.

The list is so bizarre as to be laughable.

"Ass Puppies, Axing the Weasel, Athlete's Foot, Backdoor man, Barely Legal, Barf-Face, Big Butt, Cyber Slimer, Finger Food, Gonnorhea, Harder."

Those are just the words we are allowed to say during our broadcast. There are over 1,500 English and Urdu words that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, or PTA, wants banned from text messages.

According to a PTA directive leaked on the Internet, the aim is to clamp down on bulk messages that are "harmful, fraudulent, illegal, or unsolicited."

But the list has been criticized for its contents. It is, for the most part, a very comprehensive compilation of curse words — some actually very foul, others bizarre and beyond obscure.

The list of Urdu words is crazier than the English one. One of the banned Urdu phrases roughly translates to "The sweat of a lizard's pubic hair."

Another translates as "the outcome of a burst condom".

No, there is nothing lost in translation here — the phrase sounds just as ridiculous in Urdu as it does in English. It's hard to imagine why and how such phrases would ever be used.

The English lists also bans the use of the word "Wu-Tang"… as in the Clan.

With almost a 109 million mobile phone users in Pakistan, this directive could potentially affect many people, whether or not they're fans of the Wu-Tang Clan.

"If you look at from a child's point of view may be their needs to be some moderation of what or children are being exposed to. But overall I think no."

"I don't think we need to be mothered really. What else is freedom of expression all about? I think it's really discomforting."

"Who uses these in texts? Especially when you go over Urdu words. And people will just come up with more creative ways of cursing."

"We just cannot understand where this madness will stop," said Shahzad Ahmad, who heads Bytes For All, a human rights group that focuses on digital privacy and freedom of expression issues.

The group is planning on taking legal action against the move. He worries that, ridiculous as the list may be, Pakistani officials have an ulterior motive.

"Since 2006 when Pakistan first started censoring cyberspace, they used to claim it was in the name of blasphemous content, of national security, of fighting war on terror," Ahmad said. "But, we always found a political reason underneath all these different bans and censorship that was imposed on internet or on digital communication sphere in Pakistan."

The directive is set to start being enforced on the 21st of November.

Texters are already discussing how to get around the ban. One suggestion is using numbers instead of words. Each banned word has a number on the list.

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