Pakistan blocks YouTube in ‘sacrilege’ row

Lahore, Pakistan - Pakistan blocked access to YouTube yesterday, condemning “growing sacrilegious content” on the video-sharing website in the latest twist of an intensifying international debate over Islam and freedom of speech online.

The move came a day after the Pakistani Government responded to a court order by temporarily blocking Facebook over a page advertising a contest to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” page and several spin-offs invite users to send in caricatures of the Prophet — infuriating many Muslims who regard any image of him as blasphemous.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority did not say which material on YouTube was deemed sacrilegious but there are several clips relating to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” on Facebook. The Government took action against the social network site and YouTube after it failed to persuade them to remove “derogatory material”, the regulatory body said.

It invited representatives from the two websites to contact Pakistani authorities to resolve the dispute in a way that “ensures religious harmony and respect”. It added that it had blocked more than 450 internet links containing offensive material but did not make clear how many were blocked in the past two days.

Access to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, and Flickr, the photo sharing site, also appeared to be restricted, although Twitter was still accessible.

Facebook was blocked until May 31 by the Lahore High Court, after protests by Islamic lawyers. It was not clear how long the YouTube ban would last. The bans are fuelling a debate over Islam and freedom of speech.