Pakistan temporarily blocks Twitter

Steven Loeb · May 20, 2012 · Short URL:

Government officials claim contest involving drawing Mohammed is blasphemous

Every few years, it seems, someone thinks it will be a good idea to intentionally provoke the Muslim community by drawing cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad. This time it lead to a crackdown by the Pakistani government.

Twitter was taken down temporarily in Pakistan Sunday, because of a contest involving users drawing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad on Facebook. Any depiction of the prophet, good or bad, is believed by many Muslims to be blasphemous.

When asked about the contest, a Facebook spokesperson told VatorNews, "Facebook is a service devoted to helping people share and making the world more open and connected. We believe that sharing information, and the openness that results, invites conversation, debate and greater understanding.  At the same time, we recognize that some content that is shared may be controversial, offensive, or even illegal in some countries."

Seattle artist Molly Norris started the “Draw Mohammed” contest as a response to death threats made against Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the Comedy Central show “South Park,” for attempting to depict Mohammad on their show in 2010.

Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication's Authority, told the Associated Press that Facebook had agreed to address concerns over the competition,

"While we do not remove this type of content from the site entirely unless it violates our Statement of Rights and responsibilities, out of respect for local laws, traditions and cultures, we may occasionally restrict its visibility in the countries where it is illegal, as we have done in this case.  When we review any request from authorities individually and reactively, and will only restrict content in the most limited way possible," a Facebook spokeperson said.

Twitter, however, would not comply, forcing the government to block them.

"We have been negotiating with them until last night, but they did not agree to remove the stuff, so we had to block it," Yaseen said.

Initially there seemed to be some confusion over what was happening. On Saturday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to assure that Twitter would not be blocked, tweeting, “Dear all, I assure u that Twitter and FB will continue in our country and it will not be blocked. Pl do not believe in rumors.”

This is not the first time a website has been banned for a similar stunt.

In 2010, Facebook was blocked for two weeks by the Pakistani government over a similar contest, and was only restored when the offending pages were blocked in Pakistan.

Twitter has now been restored by order of the prime minister, the Washington Post is reporting. The ban lasted approximately eight hours.

Reaction in Pakistan

The Twitter ban was renounced by people from all sides, and many Pakistanis found ways around the ban to Tweet their disapproval.

“The government of Pakistan’s ban on Twitter is ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be,” Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch said, in a statement.

“The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.”

Even members of the Pakistani government went on Twitter to condemn it.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a member of the Pakistani Parliament, and a media advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari tweeted, “As a citizen of #Pakistan and as a former journalist I condemn the blocking of #Twitter. Freedom of speech is an inviolable right.”

Twitter could not be reached for comment

(Image source:

Support VatorNews by Donating

Read more from our "Trends and news" series

More episodes