The Pakistani government has temporarily blocked social networking website Twitter in relation to posts on the site promoting a Facebook contest involving drawings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The block was reportedly lifted after a few hours Sunday.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman Muhammad Yaseen confirmed that the agency had managed to persuade social networking site Facebook to remove the postings from their site but said about Twitter: “We have been negotiating with them until [Saturday night], but they did not agree to remove the stuff, so we had to block it”. During the imposition of the block, Mohammad Younis Khan, a spokesperson for the agency, explained that while Facebook had “agreed to remove the stuff”, Twitter was “not responding to us.” The “blasphemous material” was placed by those organising the competition on Facebook in an attempt “to hurt Muslim feelings”, according to Khan, who confirmed Sunday Twitter service had “been restored” on the orders given to the agency, although he did not know of any reason why this order had been made.
Facebook has confirmed that material on its website had been made unavailable in Pakistan at the request of authorities, with a spokesperson for the website explaining: “Out of respect for local laws, traditions and cultures, we may occasionally restrict [certain content's] visibility in the countries where it is illegal, as we have done in this case”. Twitter has not made any comment other than to clarify that no modifications or removals of content occurred to ensure the site’s restoration.
Human rights organisation Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan director Ali Dayan Hasan condemned the Twitter block as “ill-advised, counter-productive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be”, while former United States Department of State spokesperson Philip J. Crowley described the decision as “another sign of the civilian government’s weakness”.
This incident bears resemblance to one which occurred two years ago Saturday, when a court order blocked Facebook in the country for around two weeks due to a page on the site, called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”, asking users to upload caricatures of Muhammad. In the Islam faith, depicting any prophet is prohibited as it is regarded as blasphemy.