Facebook, YouTube Banned in Pakistan

The Pakistani government temporarily blocked Facebook and YouTube due to what it describes as sacrilegious content. A Facebook group encouraging the submission of images of Muhammad ignited protests throughout Pakistan, leading to a ruling that blocks the social network until May 31. Facebook responded to the incident with a cautious statement, while a Facebook group opposing the original group is attracting attention.

The Pakistani government temporarily blocked in-country access to YouTube May 20, a day after barring Facebook, and accused both Websites of sacrilege, following protests across Pakistan in reaction to a Facebook group titled, "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!"

That Facebook group asked users to draw and submit images of the Prophet Muhammad on May 20. "We are not trying to slander the average Muslim, it's not a Muslim/Islam hate page," the group's moderator wrote. "We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we're not afraid of them."

Some 99,754 people had clicked to "Like" the Facebook group by the afternoon of May 20. In Pakistan, however, anger over the depictions of the prophet-forbidden by Islamic code-led to the blocking of not only Facebook, but also YouTube for a few hours.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority cited "growing sacrilegious contents" as the reason to act against YouTube, according to the Associated Press, as well as "derogatory material" on both the video-sharing site and Facebook. By midday May 20, though, the Wall Street Journal reported that the ban against YouTube had been lifted, apparently after unspecified offensive material was removed.

The ban on Facebook will stay in place until May 31, according to a Pakistani High Court ruling. Reactions within Pakistan seem mixed, according to news reports, with many suggesting that the specific Facebook group should have been banned instead of the entire Website; but other opinions range across the spectrum.

"Such malicious and insulting attacks hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world and cannot be accepted under the garb of freedom of expression," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Basit told the Associated Press May 20, in reference to the Facebook group.

Facebook's response to the matter seemed cautious.

"While the content does not violate our terms, we do understand it may not be legal in some countries," the social networking site said in a statement widely disseminated online. "In cases like this, the approach is sometimes to restrict certain content from being shown in specific countries."

Meanwhile, a Facebook group titled, "Against 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!'" had been "Liked" by more than 106,781 people.