Just as the clock ticked towards the 101st day that video sharing site YouTube was blocked in Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik tweeted on Friday evening that a decision has been taken to unblock the site in “24 hours”.
“I chaired a high level meeting with all stakeholders on the Youtube. Good job by PTA to block anti iIslamic material! Pl expect Youtube unblocked in 24hrs”
The move comes almost a month after the minister, whose ministry is not linked to either the Ministry of Information Technology, nor the blocking agency Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), formed a committee to look into ways how the video sharing site could be unblocked while not in conflict with court orders on blasphemous material.
Malik has maintained on numerous occasions that any decision to unblock the site would be taken by the Cabinet, where it was decided to block the site in the first place. His tweet indicates that the government, after failing to convince Google, or YouTube, has managed to put in place individual blocks on urls for the video in a work around to reopen the site.
The site had been blocked on September 17, 2012 by the Cabinet in the immediate aftermath of mass riots in Pakistan reacting to a clip from an amateurishly produced sacrilegious film. The film had sparked violent riots across the Muslim world after a translated version was aired on Egyptian television. The violence saw American embassy in Cairo and in Libya attacked.
Following the violence, YouTube had been requested by a number of countries to either block the film in their countries or to completely remove it from YouTube servers. While YouTube, and its parent company Google Inc explicitly refused to comply with the latter of the demands, it did endeavour to block access to the content in India, Malaysia, Indonesia after requests were received from those governments. Google though unilaterally blocked access to the videos in Egypt and Libya.
It took a threat to be blocked and a court order in Brazil for the service to block access to the specific videos. However, Google did not comply with requests from the Pakistan government, which then proceeded to block the website completely. In addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sudan blocked access to the video sharing site after it refused to remove the video or block access to it.
Google had also twice refused requests by the White House to remove the video claiming the video did not violate its community rules and thus there was no reason to remove the video.
Malik added that those who had been pressing him to unblock the site should be happy now.
“There was a great demand to unblock Youtube from all sections of society especially fellow tweeps. Expect the notification today! Hope you are all happy now”
Not really a silver lining
However, the news of the video sharing site being unblocked comes with an ominous cloud over it. In a subsequent tweet, Malik let in on a more disturbing trend:
“PTA is finalising negotiations for acquiring a powerful firewall software to totally block pornographic and blasphemous material.”
Rumours have been rife that the PTA has been trying to acquire a firewall which can block websites at a very high rate.