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Pakistani derision at 'obscene text' ban

By Nosheen Abbas
BBC News, Islamabad

image caption"Happy Birthday" has not yet been banned by the Pakistan Telecommunications Association

What do the words sex, lavender, flatulence, quickie, butt, mango and pud have in common?

They are among more than 1,000 words deemed so obscene by the Pakistani Telecommunications Authority that they have instructed mobile phone operators to block them from all text messages.

It is a decision that has left many in Pakistan unsure whether to be staggered, amused or outraged. Social media sites such as Twitter have been flooded with posts about the decision.

An unconfirmed list has been circulating online. Many of the words are sexually explicit but the inclusion of some words and phrases appear to have defied even those who admit to possessing the lewdest of minds.

Some Pakistanis have expressed their delight and gratitude, saying the list has taught them so many forbidden words and provided such a source of mirth.

What is Yellowman?

Rarely, if ever, can phrases such as "monkey crotch" and "athlete's foot" have turned up in the same 140-character Twitter post, but Pakistanis are now revelling in repeating these phrases online using the tag #PTAbannedlist.

Wali Tirmizi tweets: "As expected, the #PTABannedList has made its way all over Pakistan, & kids are swearing more elaborately & frequently than ever. Well done."

SabinaR9 tweets: "I think #PTA just enhanced the vocab for us. Never knew words like these ever existed. #PTABannedList"

Some people are simply curious - they want to know what an "ass puppy" is or the vile significance of "Yellowman", reportedly the final word on the list.

But there is anger at the decision too.

One Twitter user, irfanam, tweeted: "#PTA has come up with #PTABannedList because lot of these government functionerios don't want to hear truth about themselves #pakistan".

'They banned 'kiss ass'!'

Censorship in Pakistan has a rich history, from public lashings of journalists and those who were anti-regime in the 1980s to people getting shot in public places for religious beliefs.

For many, this is just the latest and most bizarre twist, in a culture where freedom of expression is hard fought.

But many people have picked up on inconsistencies: the banned list includes every conceivable incorrectly spelled version of "masturbation". Bizarrely, if spelt correctly, the word is not banned.

One Twitter user who used the identity, @KaalaKawa also noted: "Oh no! They banned "kiss ass"! That's the end of all political commentary via text messaging. #PTABannedList" as well as pointing out that while "breast job" is forbidden, "boob job" is not.

It is unclear if the ban has been put into practice yet, but many people say they have tried to send out text messages which include swear words. Some have succeeded in getting through; others have not, so the ban appears patchy for now.

Many note, with irony, that "Jesus Christ" and "Satan" are on the list - underscoring that it also has the potential to offend cultural and religious sensitivities.

Every possible irony has been pored over by Pakistanis talking on the street and online. MahwashB tweets: "You can't use the word "devil". There goes the religious sermon. #PTABannedList".

What many people want to know is who the creative genius behind this list of words is? What anonymous bureaucrat has toiled over this list of more than 500 Urdu and 1,000 English expletives and other words for the love of decency in telecommunications?

List is 'protection'

A letter dated 14 November, apparently written by Muhammad Talib Doger, an official at the PTA, has been leaked to Pakistani media.

It states that mobile phone operators should begin screening the words, provided on a list attached to the letter, within seven days.

The ban is a reaction to phone users' complaints that they have been receiving offensive text messages, Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the PTA, told The Guardian newspaper.

Nevertheless, some in Pakistan - not without some irony - are lauding it as a work of art: "The #PTABannedList is what Charles Dickens would have wrote if he lived in Federal-B-Area right now," one user tweets.

Ultimately, Pakistanis have faith that they, too, will possess enough creativity to find ways around the bans. But despite the humour, there is anger underlying the resignation many Pakistanis feel.

"We have one week to send all these messages to the chairman of PTA - so I've asked my friends to get his number and we should use this week to curse and put it to good use," says Khurram.

For their part, the PTA say the list is to protect young customers and they will be adding to it.

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