Pakistan’s media regulator blocked Wikipedia services in the country for hurting Muslim sentiment by not removing claimed blasphemous content from the site.
Critics denounced Islamabad’s action, saying it was a blow to digital rights.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or its figures can be sentenced to death, although the country has yet to carry out capital punishment for blasphemy.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority says it blocked Wikipedia because a 48-hour deadline to remove the content was ignored, according to a spokeswoman. “Such things hurt the sentiments of Muslims,” said Malahat Obaid, from the regulator.
She said Pakistani authorities were in talks with Wikipedia officials and the ban could be lifted if the platform completely removes anti-Islam content.
Hours later, Pakistan’s Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that premier Shahbaz Sharif had ordered the immediate restoration of Wikipedia, a move welcomed by Pakistanis.
Mohsin Raza Khan, a Pakistani social media expert, said it is easy to update or replace Wikipedia material deemed sacrilegious or offensive for Muslims – so blocking the site is not the answer.
“Pakistan’s media regulator and other authorities should try to find some viable technical solution to such problems as blasphemous content is available everywhere,” he said. “It is equal to a drop in the ocean of knowledge.”
The Lahore-based Digital Rights Foundation earlier called the Wikipedia ban an affront to Pakistanis’ right to access information and a mockery of the country’s commitment to uphold its human rights obligations.
In the past, Pakistan briefly banned TikTok twice for allegedly uploading “immoral, obscene and vulgar” content.
But the ban was later lifted after TikTok assured Pakistan it would remove immoral content and also block users who upload “unlawful content.” The app was downloaded millions of times in Pakistan when the ban was imposed in 2020 and 2021.
Also, in 2008, Pakistan banned YouTube over videos depicting Prophet Muhammad. Muslims generally believe any physical depiction of Islam’s prophet is blasphemous.