Creating Technology for Social Change

The Long March Online–Huma Yusuf in Pakistan

Ed. note: Our research affiliate Huma Yusuf is in Karachi covering the political protests in Pakistan, and she is blogging about Pakistanis’ uses of citizen journalism on The Dawn Blog, from which we’ll quote as Huma posts more.

Pakistan, a developing nation with 17 million internet users in a population of over 150 million people, seems like an unlikely place for internet activism to thrive. But ongoing political turmoil (and a propensity for arbitrary arrests) has made this South Asian country one of the most politically active nations online.

In November 2007, then-president Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, deposed a Supreme Court Justice, and blocked all television channels. This confluence of events led to a wave of online activism–in the form of debate, online community organizing, and citizen reporting–in an effort to restore the independent judiciary and democratic rule (for more information, please see the research paper Old and New Media: Colliding and Colluding During the Pakistan Emergency). Amongst the most active participants in the online movement were lawyers affiliated with various Bar Associations throughout Pakistan.

A strong civil society campaign–spearheaded by the legal community–eventually led to free and fair elections in February 2008 and the ouster of Musharraf in August 2008. But the Supreme Court Justice has yet to be restored. In spring 2008, to put pressure on the newly elected government to restore the deposed Chief Justice, Pakistan’s lawyers launched a Long March–a nationwide protest that involved lawyers and activists marching from across the country to the capital, Islamaba–that was largely organized and publicized online.

Now, as the Supreme Court Justice remains on the sidelines, the lawyers are marching again. This time, they have an added agenda: to curtail the unconstitutional activities of Pakistan’s current President Asif Zardari. Once again, lawyers are using chat forums, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, and blogs to organize the Long March, publicize its various events and routes, and ensure that citizen reporting live from the march itself can be widely circulated to counter the government-influenced coverage of the protest on mainstream media outlets (such as state-owned radio and private news channels relying on government-issue licenses).

For more information on how Pakistan’s citizen journalists and political activists are using the internet to facilitate the second Long March for democracy, head over to The Dawn Blog.