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Egyptian court orders month-long ban on YouTube

(Index on Censorship/IFEX) - Over the weekend, an Egyptian court approved a month-long ban on YouTube, for refusal to remove controversial anti-Islam film the Innocence of Muslims. In addition to a ban on YouTube, the same court ordered a ban on any other website hosting the film.

It's unclear when the ban is meant to go into effect — and a Google (the owner of YouTube) spokesperson on Saturday said that they have “received nothing from the judge or government related to this matter.”

The film's trailer sparked angry protests and calls for its removal in September last year, for its crude depiction of Islam's prophet Muhammad. Cairo was one of the sites of violent protests outside of its American Embassy. Shortly after the start of 11 September protests against the film, Pakistan reportedly blocked YouTube for refusing to remove the video, with Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf declaring that “blasphemous content will not be accepted at any cost.” In addition to Pakistan, Egypt would be joining Bangladesh, Sudan, and Afghanistan in blocking YouTube for hosting clips from the film.

However, Egyptian human rights activist and technology expert Ramy Raoof dismissed the ban as “impractical”, and explained to Egypt Independent yesterday that it would be very difficult — and expensive — for the Egyptian government to actually implement it. Another anonymous expert told the newspaper that even if the ban is implemented, it would be a “very weak solution” as Egyptians “will still find a way around it”.

Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has yet to respond to the rulings, but activists have pointed out that the government body has shown reluctance to enforce such bans in the past. In 2009 Egypt made a decision to ban pornography that went unenforced. Egyptian prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud ordered the ban to be enforced in early November last year — but Telecommunications Minister Hany Mahmoud said that it would be “technically difficult” to actually block the sites.

Still, even with doubt cast over the feasibility of its implementation, human rights groups have slammed the ruling as a step backwards for internet freedom after the fall of Mubarak two years ago. Bahey Al Din Hassan, the head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights told the Wall Street Journal that the ruling reflects the ever-increasing influence of Egypt's religious conservatives — as well as a sign of even more restrictions on freedom of expression in the country.

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