ABC News' Nicholas Schifrin reports from Islamabad, Pakistan:
When President Asif Ali Zardari says “Shut up,” he apparently means it.
A few weeks ago, a short video of Pakistan’s unpopular, democratically elected president began playing on endless loop on the dozen private channels here. In the clip, he is giving a speech in Urdu to a crowd that apparently wasn’t listening to him too closely (not uncommon in Pakistan). As he speaks, you can hear background chitchat from the inattentive audience. Well, he could hear that same chitchat too, so at one point he looked down at someone and yelled, in English, ”Shut Up!”
All the local television anchors had a good laugh featuring the video, as did those at home -- some of whom created remixes of Zardari’s outburst (see HERE , HERE and HERE ) and posted them to YouTube.
“Such behavior is embarrassing for any politician, but especially for the president of a country,” wrote Adil Najam of All Things Pakistan , a moderate blog that promises to “talk about [Pakistan’s] problems constructively.”
Which brings us to the evening of Sunday, Feb. 7. At about 9:30 p.m., according to the Pakistan Twitterverse , YouTube suddenly disappeared from Pakistani Internet Service Providers.
About an hour later, it seems that all was fixed -- with one very blatant exception. The dozen or so YouTube videos featuring Zardari’s explosion in loop were still restricted. You could search for them, but you couldn’t watch them (see screen grab below).
Both the government and YouTube say they’re checking to see what’s going on.
I called my Internet Service Provider and one official said he was under the impression all had been fixed -- and insisted nobody from his side was specifically restricting embarrassing videos of the democratically elected president.
“It must be some restriction from government side,” he said, confirming that the videos had been restricted. He laughed and joked, “Zardari might be blocking it himself!"
It’s important to note that as of right now, it’s not clear who restricted the videos (or at least, nobody’s owning up to it).
But Zardari’s government – the first democratic government in Pakistan in more than a decade -- has taken steps in the past to restrict critical speech.
Last summer, the government passed a law threatening anyone who sends text messages or e-mails that “slander the political leadership of the country” with 14 years in prison.
(For some good Zardari jokes, click here, especially if you can understand Urdu .)
It’s not clear if anyone was actually charged under that statute (including the journalists who printed the SMSs )…
Judging by the instant reaction online -- especially on Twitter -- the government will be blamed for this, and it will not go down well. Tonight, one blogger critical of Zardari – Huma Imtiaz of “The World Has Stopped Spinning” -- wrote, “This move comes just when one thinks the government of Pakistan cannot outdo themselves. What’s next, a ban on free speech?”