Another Pakistan attack, this one online

The Friday Times in Lahore has come under cyberattack. Earlier Friday, its website could not be accessed.

Najam Sethi, the paper’s editor, told CPJ that someone has “launched an attack on the websites of both The Friday Times and Vanguard Books [the book publishing and distribution company that owns the Times]. A tsunami of killer spams and log-ins have clogged the sites and blocked them.”

Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, the Times‘ publisher, have been under threat — as he puts it, “from state and non-state actors” — for years. The earliest mention on I can find of their travails is from May, 1999, when Sethi was beaten and arrested in his home by intelligence service agents under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Most recently, things began to deteriorate after May 2 last year, when Sethi became critical of the military establishment’s “complicity or incompetence” in the Osama bin Laden affair.

This is the first time the paper’s website has come under attack. But, Sethi says, “One of our staff had received a warning three months ago telling them to ‘advise me’ to desist from criticizing the establishment.” Sethi also points out that Vanguard is the Pakistani publisher of books by Hussain Haqqani, Ahmed Rashid, and Steve Cohen, most of them in English and Urdu, all of them critical of the military establishment.

Why an attack now? The last few issues of the paper have carried some hard-hitting editorials and articles on the role of the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate in politics and foreign policy. The current issue, which came out late last night, was also tough, Sethi said. “I can only presume that my recent TV programs and Friday Times editorials coupled with some articles by others which have been critical of the national security establishment of Pakistan have provoked this attack,” Sethi said in an email exchange.

Such denial-of-service attacks are relatively new to Pakistan’s Internet. What’s more common has been what Danny O’Brien, CPJ’s Internet advocacy coordinator, calls “arbitrary and secretive censorship of online journalism sites.” This week, Pakistan’s High Court of Sindh at Karachi ruled that such censorship was “in violation of Pakistan’s constitutional protections for due process and free expression,” as Danny reported yesterday. The ruling derailed plans by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to install a massive website blacklisting system.