Pakistan is to lift a ban on Facebook and YouTube in the next few days, after blocking the websites over “sacrilegious” content, the country’s interior minister said Wednesday.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) banned access to Facebook and YouTube and other links, and restricted access to Wikipedia, last week over what it called “growing sacrilegious content”.
Interior minister Rehman Malik said Wednesday pages containing blasphemous material would remain blocked but the ban on popular sites including Facebook and YouTube would be lifted in the next few days.
“We discussed this matter in the cabinet meeting today. I told my colleagues that blocking the websites was not the right thing,” Malik told AFP.
“I said that only particular pages that contain blasphemous material should be blocked, not the entire website,” said Malik, adding that in next few days both Facebook and YouTube would be unblocked.
A government statement later said the federal cabinet “strongly condemned” the sketches of Prophet Mohammed and ordered that such material should not be accessible in Pakistan over the Internet.
“The cabinet strongly condemned the blasphemous caricatures on a specific website and directed the Ministry of IT (Information Technology) to ensure that such blasphemous material is not allowed to appear on the Internet in Pakistan.”
When a Facebook user decided to organise an “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day” competition to promote “freedom of expression”, it sparked a major backlash among Islamic activists in the South Asian country of 170 million.
Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and the row sparked comparison with protests across the Muslim world over the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in European newspapers in 2006.
Several thousand Pakistanis took to the streets at the behest of religious groups to protest.
In the wake of the Prophet Mohammed controversy, Pakistan blocked hundreds of web pages to limit access to “blasphemous” material, banning access to US-based Facebook and YouTube — the two most popular websites in the country.
A court in the eastern city of Lahore ordered the block on Facebook until at least May 31, when it is scheduled to hear a petition from Islamic lawyers.
Although none of the protests has mobilised the masses, sporadic demonstrators have continued to vent anger in Karachi and other cities.
Pakistan also briefly banned YouTube in February 2008 in a similar protest against “blasphemous” cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.