The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced today that it has ordered Internet Service Providers to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube because of blasphemous and sacrilegious content.
A source close to the PTA said the order was linked to the “Draw Mohammed Day” competition on Facebook (which led to yesterday’s court order blocking Facebook) and to the fact that cartoons had been transferred from the social-networking site to YouTube.
Officials said certain pages on Wikipedia and FlickR were also being blocked for similar reasons. In an apparently related move, the PTA asked the Blackberry mobile phone service to suspend Internet access.
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned by the latest developments. “The censorship is spreading and we fear that Pakistan will establish a long-term Internet filtering policy,” the press freedom organisation said. “We reiterate our appeal to the authorities to a put a stop to the blocking of these websites.”
The PTA said it had invited Facebook and YouTube executives to get it touch with a view to resolving the problem as quickly as possible in a spirit of respect and religious harmony.
In a statement yesterday, Facebook said: “"While the content does not violate our terms, we do understand it may not be legal in some countries. In cases like this, the approach is sometimes to restrict certain content from being shown in specific countries.”
19/05/2010 - Court orders Facebook blocked because of Mohammed cartoon competition
Reporters Without Borders condemns a Lahore high court order today instructing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block access to Facebook because of a competition on the website called “Draw Mohammed Day,” which is encouraging people to draw cartoons of the Prophet.
The court is scheduled to hold a longer hearing on the case on 31 May but Reporters Without Borders urges it to rescind the order at once.
“Access to Facebook must be restored,” the press freedom organisation said. “This measure is utterly disproportionate. The entire site has been blocked although just one group has upset the authorities, who have decided to apply prior censorship. This blocking penalises all of Facebook’s approximately 2.3 million users in Pakistan by depriving them of this social network’s exchange, mobilisation and information capabilities.”
Satire is often used on Facebook to discuss sensitive issues but any depiction of Mohammed is forbidden by Islam. The competition’s organisers portray it as a sarcastic response to the threats received by the producers of the US animated cartoon show South Park, when they made an episode showing Mohammed in a bear’s costume. The publication of Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006 sparked violent protests in many countries in which around 50 were killed, four of them in Pakistan.
It was the government who initially ordered the PTA to block Facebook yesterday. Then the Islamic Lawyers Movement took the case before the Lahore high court today. The movement’s representative, Chaudry Zulfiqar Ali, said Pakistan should follow the example of China, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have already banned Facebook.
Thousands of people had supported a call for a boycott of Facebook in email and SMS messages while the Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam is calling for all western websites to be blocked. The blocking order was issued by high court judge Ejaz Chaudhry to the PTA, which conveyed the instruction to Pakistan Internet Service Providers.
Wahaj-us-Siraj, the CEO of Nayatel, one of the ISPs, told Agence France-Presse this morning, before Facebook was rendered inaccessible, that: “Blocking the entire website would anger users (...) because the social networking website is so popular (...) Basically, our judges are not technically sound. They have just ordered it, but it should have been done in a better way by just blocking a particular URL or link.”
Pakistan previously blocked the video-sharing website YouTube for several days in 2008 because of Mohammed cartoons.