The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission told Internet Service Providers on 5 June to restore access to Facebook following the social-networking website’s agreement to withdraw cartoons of Mohammed as well as cartoons of certain Bangladeshi politicians that were considered offensive.
Facebook had been blocked since 29 May, one day after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to demand that the site be banned because of a Mohammed cartoon competition (http://en.rsf.org/bangladesh-facebook-access-restored-in-31-05-2010,37627.html).
When announcing that Facebook was being blocked, the authorities had stressed that it was just a temporary measure.
Facebook access restored in Pakistan, but now blocked in Bangladesh
A Lahore high court judge today ordered the lifting of the blocking of Facebook that has been in place in Pakistan since 19 May because of a “Draw Mohammed Day” competition urging people to submit cartoons of the Prophet. Reporters Without Borders is able to confim Facebook is accessible again.
The judge nonetheless asked the government to establish a system that would enable more selective blocking of access to websites or pages deemed to be blasphemous.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the end of Facebook’s blocking in Pakistan but is concerned about the continuation of lawsuits against the social-networking site and the possible creation of an Internet filtering system that could undermine free expression in the name of combating blasphemy.
Lahore high court judge Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry ruled that the authorities could restore access to Facebook after senior government officials gave assurances that that the blasphemy issue had been taken up with the website’s management and US government officials.
BBC reporter Ibadul Haq told Reporters Without Borders: “Deputy attorney-general Naveed Inayat Malik and Mudassir Hussain, the head of wireless telecommunication at the ministry of information technology, told the court that officials had taken up the blasphemy issue with Facebook’s management and Richard Holbrooke [the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan].”
The officials explained to the court that Facebook’s management had been told that the website should respect the court orders as blasphemous content was a “crime” in Pakistan. The cartoon competition has meanwhile disappeared from Facebook, apparently on the initiative of the person who posted it.
Representatives of the Islamic Lawyers Movement had been pressing for a permanent ban on Facebook in Pakistan. The judge ruled that this was not necessary but told them that if blasphemous content continued to appear on Facebook, they could file a contempt of court case against the authorities.
A lawyer, Azhar Siddiq, filed an application asking the court to direct the police to investigate Facebook for violating article 295-c of the blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty. The judge said he would hear the application on 15 June. Siddiq told the court that the Pakistan government should also refer the blasphemy case against Facebook to the International Court of Justice and the United Nations.
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the spread of this kind of censorship to nearby countries. “After Pakistan, it is now Bangladesh’s turn to make Facebook inaccessible, for religious and political reasons” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the Bangladeshi authorities to reverse this decision and to unblock access to Facebook without delay.”
Access to Facebook has been blocked in Bangladesh since 29 May, reportedly as a result of both the posting of Mohammed cartoons and “shocking” satirical images of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the opposition leader and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s first president.
Officials said the blocking was just a temporary measure, until Internet Service Providers had managed to render the “offensive” content inaccessible.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said Facebook had offended the religious feelings of the population’s Muslim majority. Mahbub Alam Rodin, a young man who had allegedly posted the satirical images, was arrested for insulting the country’s leaders.
According to Bangladesh Association of Internet Service Providers, around one million people in Bangladesh use Facebook.