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Pakistan Bans Twitter Over Blasphemous Content, Revokes It After A Few Hours

The Pakistan Government blocked micro blogging network, Twitter, for a few hours on Sunday, over blasphemous drawings related to Prophet Mohammed that emerged on the site, reports Dawn.com. The report states that the content appeared both on Facebook and Twitter and was part of a competition to post pictures of Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

Quoting Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the report further states that Facebook had apparently agreed to remove the offensive content but Twitter refused to remove the content which led to Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology issuing orders to block Twitter. A similar report from Pakistan’s Express Tribune states that Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology had made several unsuccessful requests to Twitter to remove the content, to which Twitter had apparently responded that it “cannot stop any individual doing anything of this nature on the website”, which is quite strange considering that the company had made changes to its policies and technology in January this year, to enable Countries to censor tweets to comply with the local law authorities. Twitter had however noted later that it would withhold specific content on its own discretion.

After a few hours, the ban was revoked following an order from the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, to the concerned authorities, as indicated by the Express Tribune report, although it was unclear as to what led to the prime minister issuing orders to unblock the site.

Previous Bans in Pakistan

In May 2010, Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority had blocked access to Facebook following a ruling in the Lahore High Court, after a Facebook group called ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ which asked users to send in caricatures depicting Prophet Mohammed (a practice which is not allowed in Islam) was considered blasphemous by Muslims. The ban was later extended to Wikipedia and YouTube. An year later, there were reports which suggested that the Lahore High Court had directed Pakistan’s Ministry of Information & Technology to block access to all websites responsible for spreading communal hatred including the social networking site Facebook for allegedly hosting a competition which featured blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammed. However, several users from Pakistan had reported that they were still able to access Facebook.

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The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority had also issued a directive to ISPs in the country, prohibiting “all mechanisms including encrypted virtual private networks (EVPNs) which conceal communication to the extent that prohibits monitoring,” so as to prevent militants from using secure Internet connections. In November 2011, there were also reports of Pakistan’s telecom regulator issuing a directive to filter more than 1695 English (view) and Urdu (view) words and phrases such as Jesus Christ, athlete’s foot, four twenty, and go to hell among others from being transmitted through SMS, however it was later revealed that the directive was being deferred or being completely withdrawn in favor of a revised list consisting of 10 English words/phrases and 30 Urdu words and phrases.


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