Pakistani telecommunication authorities have blocked more than 1,800 pornographic Web sites in an attempt to protect Internet users from what they call their corrupting and evil influence.
More than 60 percent of an estimated one million internet users in Islamic Pakistan visit pornographic sites, said Zahir Mohammed Khan, a senior official of the state-run Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (PTCL).
"We launched a campaign to block such Web sites in February and, so far, have identified and blocked 1,800 of them," he told Reuters by telephone from Islamabad.
"But it's a difficult task as such sites are in millions."
The PTCL was also identifying what Khan called anti-Islamic and blasphemous sites.
"They too are being blocked," he said, without giving details.
Internet service providers (ISPs) say a majority of those accessing pornographic sites are youngsters. Middle-aged people are also said to be regular visitors.
Thousands of internet cafes have sprung up in major cities and in remote, often conservative towns where youngsters spend hours surfing pornography sites for as little as 15 rupees ($0.35) an hour.
Waqas, 21, a student who refused to give his second name, said he and his friends were unable to access the hugely popular sites.
"But not all have been blocked. We have managed to find new ones," he said. "I wonder why the government interferes so much in our lives?"
PTCL's Khan said even that access would soon be blocked.
"We are importing new software in the next couple of months which would block all such sites," he said.
Mohammed Anwar, who owns a small internet cafe in Karachi, said the ban had started to affect his business.
"Now there are fewer visitors. There has been at least a 50 percent drop in the number of visitors here. Our clients also spend less time surfing on the net now," he said.
PTCL officials say the blocking of sites had slowed down the system.
"But it is temporary. Once the new software is installed, it would be back to normal," Khan said.
"Every week we update the list of banned sites. We hope people will turn to other, informative sites because of the ban," he added.
"But still our data shows that 25 to 30 percent users are trying to visit the banned sites," Khan said, admitting that PTCL could see a drop in internet users once the ban is fully enforced. He gave no detail of the estimated drop in revenues.
"These pornographic sites are a big social evil. The government cannot fight it alone. We need help from the ISPs and parents to fight this menace," he said.
Mirajul Huda of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a key component of a six-party Islamic opposition group, welcomed the ban but said it was too little.
"This ban is not enough. There is a need to reform the entire education system and the electronic media in line with our culture and religion so that our youngsters are not tempted with such evils," he said.
Faisal Iqbal, an employee at an internet company, said the government's ban would prove futile.
"People will find a way to dodge the PTCL system. No country can insulate itself from the world," he said.