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Pakistan moves against 'vulgar' late-night calls

Islamabad:  Pakistan has ordered mobile phone companies to ban cheap, late-night calling rates because they allegedly promote vulgarity among young men and women, officials said on Wednesday.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said it asked companies to suspend attractive night-time rates in keeping with government policy.

"We have issued the directive to all the mobile telephone companies to shelve night call packages. The step was taken after lengthy discussions," PTA spokeswoman Malahat Rab said.

"These directives are issued in the light of the government decisions and this decision has also been taken by the government," she said.

Members of parliament also demanded action.

"We strongly object to the night phone packages and recommended that the PTA either fix a time limit for this facility or ban it," said Kalsoom Perveen, who heads the committee in the upper house of parliament that made the recommendation.

"These packages are not right for our youth," she said.

Shafqat Hayayt Khan, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the information technology committee in the lower house, also backed the ban.

"There is no doubt that these cheap night call rates packages are promoting vulgarity. We will make the PTA implement this decision," he said.

Pakistan is no stranger to clamping down on phone and Internet services.

Mobile networks have been shut down to prevent militant attacks and Pakistan has since mid-September blocked access to YouTube to protest against the American film "Innocence of Muslims".

In November 2011, the PTA also tried to ban nearly 1,700 "obscene" words from text messages, but the move was met with uproar -- both at the attempted censorship and the inclusion of innocuous terms such as "lotion", "athlete's foot" and "idiot".

In 2010, Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks in a storm of controversy about blasphemy and continues to restrict hundreds of online links.

Mobile phone companies challenged the latest PTA order in court.

"We received the directive the day before yesterday and have challenged it in the Islamabad High Court. We can't comment on it because it is a judicial matter now," said Aamir Pasha, a spokesman for leading mobile phone company Ufone.
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