A judgement in the Lahore High Court, Pakistan, from Justice Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry has resulted in the Pakistani department of telecommunications being ordered to block social networking website, Facebook, after “un-islamic” and “blasphemous” images featuring the prophet Muhammad were allowed to remain on the site.
The judgement means that the entire Facebook website will be blocked in Pakistan until 31 May 2010 as a result of Facebook’s refusal to remove a user generated page entitled “Draw Mohammed Day”. After 1 June, a detailed hearing shall begin.
“We have already blocked the URL link [for the offending content] and issued instruction to internet service providers,” Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson for the PTA, told Al Jazeera. However, the offending content was still accessible, and the judge therefore ordered a ban on the whole Facebook website pending further investigation from 31 May.
All web traffic in Pakistan is routed through a central exchange, which means the Government is able to restrict and regulate access to whole URLs in this way. Facebook is entirely blocked, as a result of the order the judge made.
A group of lawyers in the country, the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement had labeled the website “blasphemous” in their petition, brought before the high court following the placement on the Facebook website of a competition which featured caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.
Muslims believe that it is forbidden to display an image of the prophet, and several high profile examples have come to light in recent years regarding publications and broadcasters who have depicted images of Muhammad which have been heavily criticised by Muslims.
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons of the prophet in 2005 is perhaps most famous and, it is believed, this lead directly to up to five deaths in devoutly Islamic Pakistan when religious extremists learned of the depiction.
This case was echoed recently when the creators of animated series South Park apparently received online threats over their 200th episode two-parter, which featured the prophet Muhammad prominently. The creators and network, however, decided to cover Mohammed with a large “censored” box when the show aired in what appeared to be a pre-planned piece of point scoring.
It remains to be seen which, if any, further websites the Pakistan Government will seek to block in this manner. Certainly images of Mohammed may be found on most, if not all, user-generated websites, from Wikipedia to YouTube (which was itself banned by Pakistan in 2007 for publishing material deemed offensive by Pervez Musharraf’s Governmnent).
In any case, with the use of proxy services, it is difficult at best to prevent use of one website: banning all websites which may contain an image of Muhammad would seem like an uphill, if not impossible struggle.
Further, knowledge of Facebook and online social media would suggest that, in taking this decision, and the foreign publicity that the Pakistani administration has insisted upon in this instance, the world may well see many more images of the prophet springing up on a variety of other social media websites, as people may look to protect their right to free expression online.
As Google has shown with regard to Chinese web censorship, US and other Western tech firms are likely to take a dim view of any attempts to block their services on a purely idealogical basis.
Pakistan may well have to think of a more readily enforceable long term solution to this issue, or face the prospect of banning almost any website which carries an image of the prophet Mohammad – a Google Image search currently elucidates over 2 million results. So that’s Google out, for starters.