Pakistan Blocks Blasphemic YouTube and Wikipedia as Facebook Considers Solutions

Facebook Pakistan protest

First, the Pakistani authorities came for Facebook; today it's YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, and 450 other websites. Early this morning, reports Agence Presse, the country ruled that content on Google's video site is "sacrilegious," and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has ordered the site blocked from the public, along with image-sharing portal Flickr, Wikipedia and, of course, Facebook.

This is not the first time that YouTube has been taken offline by the Pakistani authorities. In 2007, access was pulled for seven hours for the same(-ish) reason: "material offensive to the government of Pervez Musharraf." The government is asking representatives from YouTube and Facebook to resolve the agreement in a way that "ensures harmony and respect." There is, however, nothing particularly harmonious and respectful about censorship in a seemingly civilized country. May I perhaps suggest a more laid-back way of getting one's religious views across?

This week's problems began when a group on Facebook mounted a competition for "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," urging people to create caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, a figure so close to God it is deemed un-islamic to depict his likeness. (There is scant info available about the group's founder, we've emailed for more details.) This led to protests on the streets in various parts of the Pakistan, and a group calling itself the Islamic Lawyers' Movement filed a petition at the Pakistani High Court, asking the authorities to block Facebook, saying that the page was blasphemic. Thus, no Facebook for anyone living in Pakistan until May 31 at the earliest.

Facebook, which is already hosting an anti-Draw Mohammed Day page, is mulling over the possibility of blocking access to the offending page in Pakistan, released this statement.

"We are very disappointed with the Pakistani courts' decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way. We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others. While some kinds of comments and content may be upsetting for someone, criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle, or political ideology, for example that alone is not a reason to remove the discussion. We strongly believe that Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions, and we don't typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas."

May has really not been the greatest of months for Mark Zuckerberg. The ongoing rumbles over privacy culminated in an internal meeting last Friday to discuss the issue (details still haven't emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, there yet, I'm afraid). He's now been accused of securities fraud in a lawsuit filed by his former Harvard schoolmates (If the Zuck is indicted for securities fraud, then he would have to step down as CEO). And those crazy-buff Winklevoss twins, along with Divya Narendra, are claiming that Facebook's $65 million offer to settle a long-running court case (breach of contract and theft of idea, litigation fans) was calculated incorrectly.

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