Pakistan blocks Wikipedia, says it hurts Muslim feelings

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s media regulator said Monday it has blocked Wikipedia services in the country for hurting Muslim sentiment by failing to remove allegedly blasphemous content from the site. Critics denounced Islamabad’s action, saying it was a blow to digital rights.

Under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or its figures can be sentenced to death, although the country has yet to apply the death penalty for blasphemy.

But even allegations of infringement are often enough to provoke mob violence and even deadly attacks. International and domestic rights groups say blasphemy charges have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority says it blocked Wikipedia because a 48-hour deadline to remove content was ignored, according to a spokesperson. “Such things hurt the feelings of Muslims,” ​​said Malahat Obaid, of the regulator.

She said Pakistani authorities were in talks with Wikipedia officials and the ban could be lifted if the platform completely removes anti-Islamic content.

The Wikimedia Foundation confirmed the ban on Saturday, saying: “We hope the Pakistani government will join us in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and quickly restore access to @Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects, so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.

Mohsin Raza Khan, a Pakistani social media expert, said it was easy to update or replace Wikipedia content deemed sacrilegious or offensive to Muslims. Blocking the site is therefore not the solution.

“The Pakistani media regulator and other authorities should try to find a workable technical solution to issues like profanity content is available everywhere,” he said. “It is equal to a drop in the ocean of knowledge.”

The Lahore-based Digital Rights Foundation has previously called the Wikipedia ban an affront to Pakistanis’ right to access information and a mockery of the country’s commitment to upholding its human rights obligations.

In the past, Pakistan briefly banned TikTok twice for allegedly uploading “immoral, obscene and vulgar” content.

But the ban was later lifted after TikTok assured Pakistan it would remove immoral content and also block users who upload “illegal content”. The app was downloaded millions of times in Pakistan when the ban was imposed in 2020 and 2021.

Additionally, in 2008, Pakistan banned YouTube for videos depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims generally believe that any physical depiction of the Prophet of Islam is blasphemous.

Also on Monday, Amir Mahmood, spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, sought government protection, saying unidentified Islamists in multiple separate attacks had damaged Ahmadi places of worship in the southern province of Sindh and elsewhere in the country.

“The freedom of worship given to us by the constitution is shrinking,” he told The Associated Press.

The attacks, which took place over several days, caused no casualties, Mahmood said.

The Ahmadi faith was established on the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who followers believe was the promised messiah of the Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. Since then, they have repeatedly been targeted by Islamic extremists in the Muslim-majority country, drawing international condemnation.


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