Source: Jillian C. York, Al-Jazeera

When websites are blocked in a country with over 20 million internet users, people tend to notice. In Pakistan, where the openness of the internet has been threatened regularly for more than half a decade, new developments are quickly noticed by the country’s online populace.

The latest incident involves the blocking, by at least 13 of the country’s ISPs, of the website of popular American music magazine Rolling Stone. The block comes shortly after the magazine published an article highlighting Pakistan’s “insane military spending”. The article, by Rolling Stone blogger Matt Taibbi, linked to a New York Times article for background information, a fact that some have used to argue that Rolling Stone may have been blocked for other reasons, such as the fact that the site hosts myriad images of scantily-clad women. But as Pakistani free expression group Bytes For All has pointed out, most major pornography websites are not censored in the country.

The ban on Rolling Stone points to a possible new trend in Pakistan: censorship of politically sensitive information. While in the past, content considered blasphemous or offensive to Islam has been the target of censors both online and offline, new evidence surfaced by the OpenNet Initiative suggests increased control of the internet by Pakistan’s various information agencies. According to the report, users of popular ISP Mobilink must add proxy port 3128 in order to browse the internet; the result is the censorship of various keywords, including – strangely – the name of the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari.

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