Pakistani authorities extended their ban on the popular social networking site Facebook on Thursday to other internet sites that showed "blasphemous caricatures", as the foreign ministry spokesman put it.
In 2008, Pakistan had already restricted access to YouTube
Access to YouTube and Wikipedia was also restricted, and BlackBerry services were suspended throughout the country. A court in Lahore had ruled on Wednesday that Facebook should be blocked in Pakistan for failing to remove a page that invited entries to a competition to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Many students support ban
A demonstration by the Islamist party Jamat-e-Islami against Facebook in Islamabad
Facebook is very popular in Pakistan, with between two and three million users. But outside Hamdard University in Islamabad on Thursday, many students supported the ban. Many Muslims believe that any pictorial representation of the Prophet is sacrilegious. One female student said it's normal that people are not tolerant when it comes to religious matters, "especially on our prophet. So whatever the government has done, I must say: Thumbs up!"
Another student adds: "It's ok that they closed it. But Pakistan should open its own community website, which all the Pakistanis can use."
Calls for free speech
But there were also other opinions. Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, an engineer from Islamabad, started a Facebook group against the ban, called "Protect Online Speech in Pakistan".
Many religious Muslims also use the internet when offering prayers in Pakistan
"Facebook is used by many Pakistanis for good causes, too. There are many pro-Islam pages on Facebook, with members in millions. A friend of mine is running such a page, and he is spreading a positive message about Islam towards the world. Similarly, I myself and my friends have done a lot of good work on Facebook, helping people, helping humanity. So you cannot burn the entire village for one bad guy!"
Facebook had been targeted because a user had launched a page supporting the "Draw Mohammed Day" on May 20. The idea for such a day was originally floated by a Seattle cartoonist who was upset about threats by a Muslim group to her colleagues, the makers of the animated sitcom "South Park" in the US.
Protests draw more attention
Kalsoom Lakhani, a Pakistani blogger based in Washington DC, thought continuing a spiral of protests and counter-protests was counterproductive.
The student wing of the Jamat-e-Islami protests against Facebook in Hyderabad
"The irony of it all is that there is so much hatred out there in the blogosphere, on Facebook, in the cyberworld. But I think the more anger the 'Draw Mohammed Day' created, the more outrage it sparked, the more publicity it got as a result. So this is kind of a self-enforcing phenonemon."
Equal treatment demanded
Most Pakistani users seemed to agree that Facebook should have dealt with the matter in a different way. Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi said, "Facebook's policy on abuse is very biased, I feel. For example, I protested against General Musharraf during his emergency rule, when he banned the media and all that. I created a page. It had around 10,000 members, and it was banned. I e-mailed Facebook, and they said that because your page is spreading hatred and being abusive, we are removing it. I said: OK! But this time, of course millions of Muslims around the world were reporting this page, but Facebook was not taking it down!"
Facebook, which is based in Palo Alto, California, has expressed disappointment about being banned in Pakistan "without warning", but stood by its policies in a statement to AFP news agency.
Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Grahame Lucas