Ahmed Raza Chuhdary CEO, Thear | Member, Welson Group 09 February 2023, 02:56 AM

After blocking Wikipedia over blasphemous content, Pakistan lifts ban

Pakistan's brief ban on Wikipedia over alleged sacrilegious content has been lifted after receiving international attention. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered authorities to allow access to the site just days after it was blocked. However, other websites, including social media platforms, remain blocked in Pakistan.

The move to block Wikipedia came after the country's telecommunication authority accused the site of ignoring requests to remove the controversial content. The authority first deliberately slowed down access to the site for days before finally blocking it altogether.

Many critics, including digital rights lawyers and free speech advocates like Nighat Dad, argued that the ban was disproportionate. They suggested that instead of banning the site, users should simply avoid offensive pages, as the internet is full of such content. Nonetheless, in Pakistan, a lot of online content is already banned, such as porn, newspapers from enemy India, hookup sites like Tinder and Grindr, and even major platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were banned.

Digital rights activist Usama Khilji noted that many of these bans are often made in response to complaints from religious hardliners, who use these bans to flex their political muscle. Sometimes, they threaten to take to the streets, petition the courts, or publicly complain to lawmakers.

The ban on Wikipedia is just one example of such censorship in Pakistan. The country's first-ever film to be shortlisted for an Oscar in the international feature film category, "Joyland," which tells a love story between a trans woman and a cisgender man, was also banned at home. However, the ban was lifted after a national outcry caught international attention.

While the restored access to Wikipedia in Pakistan is a positive development, it is not quite a victory, according to Khilji. The fact that other sites remain blocked shows that censorship remains a serious issue in the country. Nonetheless, this move has sparked an important conversation about the need for greater digital freedom and free speech in Pakistan.
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