Pakistan Blocks YouTube & 450 Other Web Links in Crackdown

May 20, 2010, 1:58 PM EDT

By Ketaki Gokhale and Farhan Sharif

May 20 (Bloomberg) — Pakistan, home to the world’s second- largest Muslim population, blocked Google Inc.’s YouTube service and more than 450 Web links as the government widened a crackdown on Internet material it deems blasphemous.

The sites and links were blocked because of the increasing level of sacrilegious and derogatory material, the Islamabad- based Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said in a statement today. The regulator, which shut access to Facebook Inc.’s website yesterday, may block other links with blasphemous content, Khurram Mehran, a spokesman, said.

Pakistan began its censorship campaign after a Facebook user set up a page inviting others to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, an act considered blasphemous by Muslims.

Protesters today gathered in Karachi holding banners and shouting slogans against Facebook, and people circulated text messages asking users of the site in Pakistan to support the ban. Others who use the social-networking tool accused officials of overreacting.

“The government’s reaction is just like a child sticking fingers in his ears without addressing the problem,” said Omar Kapadia, a 28-year-old researcher at an educational organization in Karachi, who uses Facebook and YouTube regularly. “Though I don’t agree with the caricature competition, the best way would have been to set up one highlighting Prophet Muhammad’s achievements.”

Google Response

Google is looking into the blocking and working to ensure its YouTube service is restored, the Mountain View, California- based company said in an e-mail. Facebook said it’s disappointed with the decision to stop access to the site.

“While some kinds of comments and content may be upsetting for someone — criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle or political ideology, for example — that alone is not a reason to remove the discussion,” Facebook said in an e-mailed statement.

Pakistan said that Facebook and YouTube violated a resolution endorsed by the United Nations.

“The attitude of administrators at Facebook and YouTube was in contravention to the WSIS Resolutions and their own policies advertised on the Web for general public,” Mehran said in the statement, referring to the World Summit on the Information Society endorsed by the United Nations. “PTA would welcome the concerned authorities of Facebook and YouTube to contact the PTA for resolving the issue.”

Blackberry Ban

The regulator has also blocked Internet browsers on Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry phones, Mehran said today.

A Facebook user set up a page called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” inviting others to send in a “creative and funny depiction of Mohammed” on May 20, according to the website.

“We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions that we’re not afraid of them,” according to the Facebook description page. “They can’t take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence.”

Pakistan needs an effective plan to prevent anti-Islam elements “hurting the sentiments of Muslims,” state-run Associated Press of Pakistan cited Religious Affairs Minister Saeed Kazmi as saying in Islamabad. Kazmi called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to organize a meeting of Muslim countries and create a united policy for dealing with anti- Islamic moves, APP reported.

The telecommunications regulator blocked Facebook after the Lahore High Court imposed a ban and the Ministry of Information Technology instructed it, according to Mehran.

Political Parties

The court petition to bar Facebook was filed by a lawyer representing the Jamaat-e-Islaami, the party’s spokesman Sarfaraz Ahmed said in an interview today.

“The religious political parties use issues like this to survive,” said Fateh Muhammed Burfat, president of the Karachi- based Pakistan Sociological Association.

The Jamaat-e-Islaami, Pakistan’s biggest religious party, received less than 5 percent of the vote in all Pakistani elections over the last three decades, according to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“When technology is involved in something objectionable, we have to stop it,” said Chaudhry Zulfiqar, who filed the petition in court asking for the website to be blocked.

Within the Law

Today’s shutdown is within the Constitution of Pakistan and is an extension of orders from the High Court of Pakistan and the government’s directions, Mehran said. The regulator has set up a telephone number for callers to notify it regarding websites with objectionable material, according to the statement.

Cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 provoked protests by Muslim communities around the world including Pakistan. The cartoons included one of the prophet with a bomb in his turban and accompanied an article on freedom of speech and self-censorship in the media.

Pakistan’s Internet traffic has fallen 25 percent since the two websites were blocked, CNBC Pakistan reported. It didn’t cite a source for the data.

–With assistance from Khurrum Anis and Naween Mangi in Karachi. Editors: Young-Sam Cho, Mark Williams

To contact the reporters on this story: Farhan Sharif in Karachi, Pakistan at Fsharif2@bloomberg.net; Ketaki Gokhale in Mumbai kgokhale@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Foxwell at sfoxwell@bloomberg.net; Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net

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