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Pakistan lifts Wikipedia ban

February 7, 2023

Last week the online encyclopedia was blocked over what Pakistan's media regulator deemed "blasphemous material." The government has unblocked the site following a public outcry.

A computer screen displays a notice blocking the Wikipedia website through an online news site in Islamabad, Pakistan
Wikipedia was blocked Image: Anjum Naveed/AP Photo/picture alliance

Pakistan lifted its restriction on Wikipedia early on Tuesday, days after the country's media regulator blocked the site for not removing what it described as "blasphemous" content.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif personally requested the unblocking of the online encyclopedia, according to a statement.

The site was blocked last week by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), after a deadline expired that the country had given to Wikipedia to remove the contentious material.

"Wikipedia has been unblocked as per the directions of the prime minister," Malahat Rab, a spokesperson for the PTA, told news agency DPA.

Sharif decided to unblock the platform after a ministerial committee noted "the unintended consequences of this blanket ban outweigh its benefits."

The prime minister also set up a committee "to 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 ban drew widespread condemnation, with critics saying it was a blow to digital democratic rights and deprived the public of the right to seek knowledge.

As the situation grew more acrimonious in Pakistan, the country's Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Monday that Sharif's five-member committee had looked into the matter and called for Wikipedia to be restored with immediate effect.

The government has so far not provided any details about the content it regarded as anti-Islam, and the PTA never offered an explanation as to why it deemed it insensitive towards Muslims.

Humna Raza – a social media influencer in Pakistan

Internet censorship

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, social media giants have previously been banned for posting content deemed sacrilegious.

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, Pakistan has also blocked the video-sharing app TikTok several times over "indecent" and "immoral" content.

Similarly, media regulators banned dating apps, including Tinder, and streaming app Bigo for immoral, obscene and vulgar content.

jsi/es (AP, dpa)