ISLAMABAD: Broadening the scope of curbs over blasphemous material on the worldwide web, the Pakistan Te l e c o m m u n i c at i o n s Authority (PTA) on Thursday blocked access to the popular video sharing website YouTube just hours after banning internet access to social networking site Facebook.
Access to certain pages on website like Flickr and Wikipedia sites was also blocked. This may affect a quarter of Pakistan’s internet traffic, say analysts. The PTA urged Facebook and YouTube to “resolve the matter as soon as possible” in a manner that “ensures religious harmony and respect.” Meanwhile, website pcworld. com quoted the Facebook administration as saying that it might consider making content considered to be objectionable by Pakistan inaccessible to users in the country.
“We are analysing the situation… and will take appropriate action, which may include making this content inaccessible to users in Pakistan,” Facebook said in an e-mailed statement. In a related development, the American cartoonist whose work is said to have inspired the controversial “Everybody Draw Mohammed Page” on Facebook has condemned the effort and tendered an apology to Muslims.
PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Express 24/7 that the authority had so far blocked public access to 450 links containing “objectionable sketches and material” since Thursday night. Access to Facebook was blocked on Wednesday after a court ordered a ban on the site until May 31 following an online competition to draw caricatures of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). A PTA official told Reuters that action was taken after the authority determined that some caricatures of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had been transferred from Facebook to YouTube.
Wahajus Siraj, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) and also CEO of Nayatel, told Reuters that blocking the two websites would slash up to a quarter of all internet traffic in Pakistan. Public sentiment has been strong on the issue. According to Daily Express, protest rallies were taken out all over southern Punjab, including Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur and Layyah, to protest against the blasphemous caricatures.
A man is learnt to have been critically injured after he slit his own throat with a knife in Kahror Lal Isan. At a press briefing in Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit said that Pakistan strongly condemned the blasphemous caricatures. Lawyers boycotted court proceedings on Thursday to protest against sacrilegious cartoons on a page hosted by the Facebook, Express Tribune’s Lahore correspondent reported. The protest call was given by the Punjab Bar Council in conjunction with the Lahore Bar Association (LBA). Members of the Lahore High Court Bar Association said they welcomed the LHC decision and urged the government to take up the matter at the International Court of Justice “to stop blasphemous caricatures once and for all”.
In its comments, Facebook also said: “We are very disappointed with the Pakistani courts’ decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way.” YouTube did not respond to a request for comment, according to pcworld.com website. The cartoonist, Molly Norris of Seattle, writing on her website at mollynorris.com, said she had nothing to do with the website or the campaign. “I did not ‘declare’ May 20 to be “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” she said, adding that her idea was satire but “was taken seriously, hijacked and made viral.” “I never started a Facebook page.
I never set up any place for people to send drawings to and I never received any drawings,” she said. “The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out, of people who only want to draw obscene images, is offensive to Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place,” she said. “I apologise to people of the Muslim faith and ask that this ‘day’ be called off,” she said.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 21st, 2010.