Pakistan Prime Minister ordered the restoration of access to Wikipedia in the country after it was blocked for a few days because it included “sacrilegious” content.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the lifting of the ban on Wikipedia after access to the site in the country was entirely blocked by authorities considering it included “sacrilegious” content. But a government committee of the Mulsim-majority country is tasked to explore ways to block access to “objectionable content.”
Marriyum Aurangzeb, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, shared on Twitter a copy of Prime Minister’s order to restore Wikipedia back online with immediate effect on February 6.
The Wikipedia website, the online user-generated free encyclopedia, was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority since February 3 because it included content that the PTA considered “sacrilegious and objectionable.”
The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit fund that manages Wikipedia, received a notification from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on February 1, stating “the services of Wikipedia have been degraded for 48 hours” for failure to remove content from the site deemed “unlawful” by the government. The PTA didn’t mention which content specifically needed to be removed. Some articles on Wikipedia include representations of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Wikimedia Foundation answered on its website it “does not make decisions around what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained,” which is “by design to ensure that articles are the result of many people coming together to determine what information should be presented on the site, resulting in richer, more neutral articles.”
On Friday, internal traffic reports indicated that Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects were no longer accessible to users in Pakistan. English Wikipedia usually receives more than 50 million page views per month in the country, followed by Urdu and Russian Wikipedias according to the foundation.
The prime minister of the fifth most populous nation in the world gathered the ministers for law and justice, for economic affairs and political affairs, for information and broadcasting in order to review the ban on Wikipedia. The committee considered Wikipedia supports the dissemination of knowledge and information for the general public, students and the academia. As such, blocking the site in its entirety “is not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable contents / sacrilegious matter on it.” It came to the conclusion that “the unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits.”
However, the committee still needs to explore and recommend “alternative technical measures for removal or blocking access to objectionable content posted on Wikipedia” within a week.
In December 2020, the PTA issued notices to Google Inc and Wikipedia on account of disseminating “sacrilegious content” through the platforms. YouTube and Facebook have also previously been banned for publishing content deemed blasphemous.
Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 after it carried a film about the Prophet Mohammed that led to violent protests across the Muslim world. In recent years, the country has also blocked the video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.