Wednesday , 29 November 2023

Wikipedia Briefly Banned in Pakistan for ‘Blasphemous’ Content

Wikipedia was banned in Pakistan on Saturday

Image: Peter Macdiarmid (Getty Images)

Pakistan lifted its Wikipedia ban today after degrading the site on Saturday following the site’s refusal to remove what local government officials called blasphemous and anti-Islam content. The Pakistani government said they gave the site 48 hours to remove the “anti-Islam” information which hurts Muslim sentiment.

The decision faced criticism from the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent company of Wikipedia, which argued that the move goes against digital rights. According to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone considered guilty of insulting or criticizing the Islam religion can be sentenced to death, although capital punishment has not been carried out.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the PTA to unblock Wikipedia on Monday in response to a panel of ministers calling the ban an “unsuitable measure.” Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb shared Sharif’s order on Twitter, saying Wikipedia’s benefits in disseminating “knowledge and information for the general public, students, and the academia” far outweighed any “objectionable contents/sacrilegious matter on it.”

A Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Gizmodo that the company hopes traffic to its site will continue soon in the wake of Sharif’s decision to unblock the site.

“Lifting this ban means that the people of Pakistan can continue to benefit from and participate in its growth within a global movement that strives to spread and share knowledge that is verified, reliable and free,” the spokesperson said.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a press release last week that Wikipedia services were “degraded … on account of not blocking/removing sacrilegious contents.” According to the press release, Wikipedia was approached to remove the “blasphemous content” and was provided with “an opportunity of hearing,” but the company declined to comply with the PTA’s request and did not appear at the hearing.

The PTA warned Wikipedia in its press release that if the site did not remove the content within 48 hours, it would be banned in Pakistan until it removed the information. The PTA wrote, “The restoration of the services of Wikipedia will be reconsidered subject to blocking/removal of the reported unlawful contents, adding it “is committed to ensuring a safe online experience for all Pakistani citizens according to local laws.”

PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid told the BBC that Wikipedia failed to respond to “repeated correspondence” over the removal of “blasphemous content,” adding, “They did remove some of the material but not all.” However, the PTA has not released details of what is considered to be controversial content.

The Wikimedia Foundation said in a press release on Saturday that if the ban continued it would “deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history, and culture.” The company argued that access to information is a “human right,” and said it hopes Pakistan will restore access to Wikipedia in the country “so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.”

Sharif said in the press release that he is open to recommendations about how to regulate or control “unlawful online content in a balanced manner.” He said he will also consider alternative methods and “technical measures” to remove or block any content posted on Wikipedia or other information sites “in view of our social cultural and religious sensitivities.” 

“The Wikimedia Foundation believes that knowledge is a human right,” the Wikimedia spokesperson told Gizmodo, adding, “We welcome the support of governments everywhere in upholding it.” 

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