ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has blocked the popular video sharing website YouTube indefinitely in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material, officials said on Thursday.
The blockade came hours after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed Internet service providers to stop access to social network site Facebook indefinitely on Wednesday because of an online competition to draw the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by Muslims.
Wahaj-us-Siraj, the CEO of Nayatel, an Internet service provider, said PTA issued an order late on Wednesday seeking an “immediate” block of YouTube.
“It was a serious instruction as they wanted us to do it quickly and let them know after that,” he told Reuters.
YouTube was also blocked in the Muslim country in 2007 for about a day for what it called un-Islamic videos.
PTA spokesman, Khurram Ali Mehran, said the action was taken after the authority determined that content considered blasphemous by devout Muslims was being posted on the website.
“Before shutting down (YouTube), we did try just to block particular URLs or links, and access to 450 links on the Internet were stopped, but the blasphemous content kept appearing so we ordered a total shut down,” he said.
He regretted that the administrators at the Facebook and YouTube had not taken the content off despite Pakistan's protests.
“Their attitude was in contravention to international resolutions and their own policies advertised on the Web for the general public,” Mehran said.
The PTA issued a statement Thursday saying, “PTA would welcome the concerned authorities of Facebook and YouTube to contact the PTA for resolving the issue at the earliest which ensures religious harmony and respect.”
The PTA decision to block all of Facebook also cut Pakistanis off from groups and pages dedicated to opposing the competition, which have thousands more supporters than the competition does.
Along with the ban, some popular websites, including Wikipedia and Flickr, have been inaccessible in Pakistan since Wednesday night. But the spokesman said it happened purely due to a technical reason and no orders were passed against them.
He said the authority was monitoring other websites as well.
Siraj said the blocking of the two websites would cut up to a quarter of total Internet traffic in Pakistan.
“It'll have an impact on the overall Internet traffic as they eat up 20 to 25 per cent of the country's total 65 giga-bytes traffic,” he said.
After the PTA's directives against Facebook and YouTube, Pakistani mobile companies blocked all Blackberry services on Wednesday night but restored services used by non-corporate users later on Thursday.
“We have intimated to the Blackberry service administrators in Canada to block them and once it's done, the service will be restored fully,” said Farhan Butt, an official at Pakistan's biggest cellular company, Mobilink.
The closure of services worried Blackberry users.
“The biggest concern for us ... is the delay in decision making,” said Zahid Sheikh, head of information technology department at National Foods Limited in Karachi city.
“Our top officials and senior management are not always in office. They do travel and work from remote locations, and with this shut down, they can't access emails.”
Publications of similar cartoons in Danish newspapers in 2005 sparked deadly protests in Muslim countries. Around 50 people were killed during violent protests in Muslim countries in 2006 over the cartoons, five of them in Pakistan.
Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Denmark's embassy in Islamabad in 2008, killing six people, saying it was in revenge for publication of the caricatures.