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Pakistan blocks Facebook over caricatures of Prophet Muhammad

(PPF/IFEX) - The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked the Internet social networking website, Facebook on May 19, 2010, after it carried caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on one of its pages.

The caricatures were uploaded on the Facebook Page titled "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" created by some Swedish Facebook members who invited people to post drawings of Prophet Mohammed on this page.

The Ministry of Information Technology has asked people to inform the government of any information relating to objectionable caricatures displayed on any other website so that they could also be blocked.

The PTA blocked access to Facebook after the Lahore High Court ordered the closure of the social networking website until May 31. The Lahore High Court orders were issued in response to a petition filed by Chaudhry Zulfiqar of the Islamic Lawyers' Forum seeking the closure of Facebook for carrying blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet. The petition said that Article 2-A of the Constitution of Pakistan restricted any practice against Islam in the country.

PTA director Mudassar Husain told the court that the closure of Facebook would damage the national economy. He said the country could lose the internet after blocking access to the website. He said the PTA had already blocked links to the controversial webpage which had hosted the competition, instead of blocking the entire Facebook website.

The judge asked the government representatives and petitioners to sit together and find a solution to the dispute. However, consultations remained inconclusive and the matter was left for the court to decide. When the hearing resumed, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry ordered that the website be blocked till May 31, the date of the next hearing.

Protest demonstrations condemning Facebook were held in many cities in Pakistan on May 19. The demonstrators urged the government to ban Facebook and to raise the issue at the international level, bilaterally and through the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC)

Cyber rights activist Awab Alvi condemned the blocking of Facebook. In a press release he said, "While we recognize that sites on the Internet are used to spew hatred and incite violence, we steadfastly believe that governments have no right to control access to information. We believe that every citizen has an inalienable right to freely access information and by censoring Facebook, the government of Pakistan has taken away that right."

According to press reports, the Swedish embassy in Pakistan has been closed for an indefinite period because of security concerns due to protests against the Facebook page.

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