LHC bans Facebook while protests continue

Express May 19, 2010

KARACHI: Protests are taking place across universities and colleges in Pakistan against social networking site Facebook, as the ongoing controversy surrounding cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has reemerged.

Muslims across the world were offended by a Facebook page which declared May 20 a day to caricature Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Despite a growing surge of protests, Facebook opted not to remove the page .

Earlier on Wednesday, the Lahore High Court (LHC) temporarily banned the social networking site Facebook till May 31 across the country.

The court issued the order after an Islamic forum of lawyers sought ban on access to the popular social networking site for holding a contest of drawing caricatures on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

President of the forum Chahudhry Zulfiqar demanded strict action against the site, saying that the competition would hurt religious sentiments of the Muslim community.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has said that it will block the social networking site after receiving a notification by the IT ministry.

The telecommunication authority officials on the other hand urged the court to ban only those pages showing the offensive drawings.

Roots of the controversy:

The controversy began after the creation of the above mentioned Facebook fan page after a Seattle-based cartoonist announced she was organising a Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cartoon drawing contest in response to Comedy Central's decision to censor an episode of South Park which had depictions of the Prophet (PBUH).

Muslims were outraged by Facebook's failure to remove the page despite multiple reports of abuse against the page to the Facebook administration. Consequently, calls of boycotting Facebook on May 18, 19 and 20 were made on many forums online to protest against the hosting of the event.

Enraged individuals have been also trying to search for hackers in Pakistan via mass SMS messages and Twitter, to hack the Facebook servers.

Uproar in the local blogsphere:

The popular Pakistani technology news blog ProPakistani spoke about how Facebook was violating its own terms and services. Popular blogger Awab Alvi also made a similar point in his blog:
"Bloggers and Twitters in Pakistan have been “reporting” this page to facebook for the past 3-4 days and no result has taken place it is without doubt such hate speech groups are in clear violation of their terms of service specially item 3.7 which states:

3.7 You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence

Awab Alvi also stated:
I believe this might be a good case study on how tolerant Facebook administration might actually be. On one hand they are quick to delete the facebook page of a civil activist group [Peoples Resistance] which was organizing street protests in Karachi on the mere whim that we might be promoting hatred and violence, while in reality we were peacefully protesting against a military dictatorship, our democratic right – that group was deleted quickly and the administrators were issued warnings, this group continues to reign supreme raking over 34,400 fans since April 25th."

Another blogger Sana Saleem writing on the Dawn blog called for rational action:
"Let’s act rationally once and for all, and help change the trend of the freedom-of-speech excuse being used to justify discriminatory campaigns. Most importantly, let’s sort out the issue of representation. The Muslim community at large – and not a fringe, extreme element – should retain the power to decide how to react to such situations. If our stance is that of peaceful condemnation, then we must rid ourselves of those who behave otherwise. The “Draw a Muhammad Day” campaign appears to be nothing more than a desperate attempt to incite and provoke Muslims – let’s not give them the satisfaction."