Pakistan blocks Wikipedia for "sacrilegious content"

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Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to immediately restore Wikipedia days after it was blocked for failing to remove “sacrilegious content”.

“The Prime Minister has also constituted a Cabinet Committee on matters related to Wikipedia and other online content,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said.

A notification issued by the PM Office said a ministerial committee consisting of the law ministry, ministry of economic affairs and information ministry “was of the considered opinion that the Wikipedia was a useful site/portal which supported dissemination of knowledge and information for the general public, students and the academia”.

“The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits.”

Based on the above recommendation, the prime minister “is pleased to direct that the website (Wikipedia) may be restored with immediate effect”, it added.

Moreover, the statement said the prime minister has constituted another cabinet committee to review the suitability of the PTA's action of blocking of Wikipedia to restrict access to certain sacrilegious and objectionable content.

The committee—which comprises of the ministers for IT and telecommunications, law and justice, information and broadcasting, commerce, and communications—will explore and recommend alternative technical measures for removal or blocking access to objectionable content posted on Wikipedia and other online information sites "in view of our social cultural and religious sensitivities".

The IT ministry will provide secretarial support to the committee.

“The committee shall present its report with recommendations for consideration of the Federal Cabinet within a week's time,” read the statement.

Wikipedia is a free, crowdsourced, and editable online encyclopaedia and is commonly used by millions across the world as a starting point on the internet for basic information.

On Wednesday, PTA degraded Wikipedia for 48 hours with the instructions to block or remove the “sacrilegious and blasphemous content”. But the telecommunications authority blocked the website across the country on Saturday after it failed to comply with its orders.

In an earlier statement, the Wikimedia Foundation, said: "On February 1, we received a notification from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority stating 'the services of Wikipedia have been degraded for 48 hours' for failure to remove content deemed 'unlawful'. As of February 3, our data shows this has extended into a full block.”

It said that a block of the platform in Pakistan would deny the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the “largest free knowledge repository”. It added that the blocking of Wikipedia would “deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s history and culture”.

This was not for the first time the authority had taken notice of objectionable content on Wikipedia or other popular online platforms.

In December 2020, the PTA had issued notices to Google Inc and Wikipedia on account of disseminating “sacrilegious content” through the platforms.

Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016. In recent years, the country has also blocked the video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.

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