Last updated: May 21, 2010 12:20 am

Pakistan bans Facebook and YouTube

 
Veiled female Pakistani activists of hardline party Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), carry placards and banners during a protest in Islamabad

Activists protest against the Facebook page

Pakistan has blocked the Facebook and YouTube websites over material that it said was offensive to Muslims, the telecom regulatory authority said on Thursday.

The move against Facebook followed an outcry over a page set up by a Facebook user inviting people to draw caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

And on Thursday YouTube, owned by Google, was also blocked due to what the regulatory authority said were links from Facebook to inflammatory videos on the video-sharing site.

On Wednesday, the provincial high court of the Punjab province ordered the government to ban Facebook immediately in response to a private petition seeking the court’s intervention.

The bans, which were apparently extended to block Wikipedia as well, sparked protests in some parts of the country.

“After all possible avenues were used within its jurisdiction including using regular channels available on Facebook and YouTube to launch protest, to avoid appearances of derogatory material available on their websites – which increased in numbers as time passed by – the PTA decided to completely shut down these sites from being viewed within Pakistan,” the Pakistan Telecom Authority, the state telecom regulator, said on Thursday.

The Facebook page in question began as a gesture of support for the animated show South Park, which stopped a cartoon of Mohammed from airing after death threats were made.

Facebook indicated that it might be compelled to co-operate, blocking the offensive pages in order to keep its service available. “We are very disappointed with the Pakistani court’s decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way,” the company said. “We are analysing the situation and the legal considerations, and will take appropriate action, which may include making this content inaccessible to users in Pakistan.”

Such co-operation is the usual route for companies such as YouTube and Facebook, which can stop access from certain geographies. YouTube is completely banned in just a few places, notably China and Turkey.

YouTube said it was getting in touch with Pakistani authorities to see if it could find a way to comply with the decree. “We are looking into the matter and are working to ensure that the service is restored as soon as possible,” a spokeswoman said.

It did not appear that the court rulings would provoke the same reaction from Google that China’s more extensive rules triggered in January.

Google blamed forced self-censorship as a key issue this year before it pulled its Chinese search engine out of the mainland.

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