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Pakistan: Court Bans Facebook

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.

About Robin Scott

Robin Scott
Robin Scott is co-founder and publisher of The Global Herald.

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  1. There is only one point of view being displayed on this page.

    It’s a perfectly legitimate argument to say that issuing “fatwas” and violently protesting and murdering people around the world because of “blasphemy” is equally insulting to those people who disagree with Islam. Muslims need to take it easy, if they want to avoid being provoked in this way. I assume people value individual freedom in muslim countries as well? If you disagree with someone’s opinion, something they say or post online, it is not necessary or helpful to retaliate in a violent, suppressive or otherwise provocative manner. To quote Ghandi, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”

    • Robin Scott

      Hi Dan,

      This article is not about “Fatwas” and the other subjects about which you speak. It is about the unenforceability of internet censorship, both in this instance and generally.

      That some people may or may not react violently to some perceived sleight is difficult to legislate for. It is also difficult to prove that such behaviour even truly occurs. People make all kinds of ludicrous statements in internet comments – how come it is only “fatwas” that get taken seriously?

      • Forgive me, I thought this article was about Pakistan banning Facebook just because some people decided to conduct a protest using that website as a medium. The protest was against the reactions by some elements of the muslim community when people have chosen to depict Muhummad in the past, some of which you have mentioned in this article.

        All i’m saying, in contradiction to most of the user comments so far, is that I believe they have a point, and a good one at that. And if Pakistan chooses to try and silence them because of the methods they are using to get this point across, Pakistan is being supressive. It’s not just impossible, it’s undemocratic, and unhelpful to their international image.

  2. Boycott Facebook forever

    We are inviting Muslim from all over the world to come and join Peace full Protest against the Blasphemous competition on facebook. We are offering the Muslim to boycott facebook forever not only for 03 days in just few days their losses reached to billions. Don’t worry about the Salary Inshah Allah you will rewarded in the AAKHEERA.


    ALLAH is d 1

  4. Its very very gud step wht ever tkn by d Govt of Pak or elz…

    bt, its importnt, tht v shud take care of our religion and, dont let any 1 say evn a wrd against it…..

    FB shud b blok 4evr…

    it dezrv 4 it….

    not only ds, bt if any any othr activity , tht iz against ISLAM, shud not only b blockd but

    it shud b punishd many mor

  5. facebook should be face more loss.m happy that fb faced a big loss.

  6. facebook should be ban forever,
    wake up Muslims.

  7. i am v.thankful to Pakistani court bcz our court banned bloody facebook.
    I love MUHAMMAD[PBH] more than my faimly,my property,my body nd my soul.

  8. we love our PROPHET MUHAMMAD [PBH] more than our families,our souls,our bodies,our property.
    i hate facebook.they satanists are playing with our Faith,our emotions nd our hearts and our brain.they committed a biggest sin.we cant forgive them.
    facebook should be ban forever in Pakistan.

  9. That was a great news for all muslims.Freedom of expression does’nt mean to do such mischievous acts against the religious elements and also with the intention of hurting someone’s feelings.I wonder why is this being done with Islam only which has taught respect for all religions.Allah has prohibited muslims from abusing the gods of non-believers.It’s an advise for all non-muslims to read the life of Hazrat Muhammad(S.A.W) and then surely u’ll realize how polite and kind he has been with non-believers despite their extreme oppressions.

  10. i get the facebook ban and i agree with the decision heartily…..youtube is understandable too…but why ban wikipedia i mean its not like muslims will go searching for the pics on wikipedia..rite??

  11. Robin Scott

    It is also being reported that image hosting site, Flickr has been blocked, too. We await confirmation from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (TMA).

  12. The right to freedom of expression is one which is inevitable and absolute. I am in Pakistan and since this morning have been experiencing problems with wikipedia and the youtube. Though i visited using proxy redirection techniqes but many here are not well aware of that. The problem with a court decision is that how much we hate it. our law abiding self has to stick with the judgement. If the majority of users in pakistan whole heartedly accept, want and declare the banishment than the discussion then it will be taken to a totally different realm. and that is what i think happening right here right now. though many just want it to be blocked out because they cannot see such caricatures. if u ask me how does it feel to see such caricatures. it feels like watching a very violent surgical procedure which i cant because i just cant watch humans being hurt. in the same way i cant watch the prophet being insulted. but thats me. And moreover here in paksitan an sms has been popular since yesterday and being forwarded like a forest fire which directs u to ping all the facebook ips endlessly. And u knw what everybody i saw since yesterday has been doing that in an effort to overflood and jam the facebook servers. So an outcome is inevitable but complex. if there is any mechanism to manually block these things away on an individual level. it will surely suffice.

  13. Robin Scott

    It appears as though access is restricted to YouTube and some parts of Wikipedia – both of which were mentioned in the article.

    Please let us know if you are in Pakistan what websites you know to have been restricted: there have been no official announcements (yet) regarding this, so it will be interesting to see what steps authorities have taken, and are going to take in this case.

    • We are using Youtube and Wikipedia still.The banned website is only Facebook.I,ve opened Wikipedia just today.

  14. First of all, thank you scott for replying.
    my comments may not have summarized or quoted peices from your article, but thay doesn’t imply i did not read it. i mean, how can anyone comment on the headline alone? i read the article and believe it or not, its after reading that my comments came out exactly as you read them.
    i do not propose you standing outside the Lahore High Court and reporting as you see a group of 20 odd students and then lawyers protesting against the Draw Muhammad Day. But my question remains that why didn’t the “GLOBAL” report it’s readers from all around the world about the Draw Muhammad Day as and when Molly Norris initiated it. it’s not like she initiated it and her friends called up the Lahore High Court to inform about it. it was up there for quite some time and if you guys can do such a great job reporting the ban by the LHC within minutes of the verdict, i am sure you are fully capable and resourceful to have found out about Everybody Draw Muhammad Day as soon as it officially got registered and had a site of its own.
    i think you are getting an idea of what i mean. the story is a whole, part of it that you choose to report first, even if you provide adequate context to it in the article, makes the headlines and it is then served as a single piece. if draw Muhammad Day was separately reported and the context you give in this article was given in that, and THEN you report the LHC ban, you will have to agree and admit, you being a journalist i assume, it does make a difference on the frame of mind with which any reader would go through the story
    i do not intent to teach anyone here. just getting my point across. hope Mr. Scott gets my point.

    jazakumAllah khayrun katheerun to Muslim Ummah. Blessings and peace on Propher forever!

    • Robin Scott

      Your comments presupposes that we report everything that happens in the world. We do not, nor can we expect to. There are fewer than ten of us. What we aim to do is initiate discussion on the issue(s) of the day in a moderated place, where anyone is free to add in their opinion without fear of recrimination and the usual jeers so prevelant online.

      There are fewer than ten people who contribute regularly to The Global Herald at present, and it would be impossible for us to pick up every domain registration and Facebook group or activity as they occur. for my part, I don’t even use Facebook; this item only drops onto our radar when the Pakistan Government makes a public announcement.

      So, we are not “journalists” in the traditional sense. Think about how you discovered this website. You did not read The Global Herald before this item came up; you came here looking for information and insight on this specific issue – the Facebook ban in Pakistan. That is the issue of the day, or one of them, and it is one which I, as the founder of many websites, as well as a law graduate, feel particularly qualified to comment upon. As a result, we have had a discussion which, we hope, leaves all who read it somewhat more enlightened than they would otherwise have been.

      Does this occur on other websites about the news?

      So, we do not attempt to cover every story, nor can we, and, yes, that does make us selective. Think of it another way, had I chosen to cover the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Facebook page immediately as it was created (though I was not aware of its existence or that it was anything other than another publicity stunt until much later) might it not be argued that, in giving the story page time among fewer than ten other items we published that day from around the world, that we were giving undue focus and attention (read publicity) to a group that people would find offensive in principle. I am sure there are many similar groups existing on Facebook and other social network websites, we can’t report all of them, nor should we, until there is something to be said about them.

      Lastly, if you don’t feel your region of the world is particularly well represented on this website, perhaps you would like to become a contributor to The Global Herald?

  15. I fail to understand what good banning facebook would do to resolve this issue?! Whereas this draw Muhammad Day is offensive to me and many other muslims, please keep in mind that facebook is not just about that.. its about interacting with long lost friends, family members who are far away, sharing music, ideas, videos and farmville (which thankfully i quit as a new year resolution).

    Our problem is that we make issues out of non-issues; the same thing happened with salman rushdie; had the fatwa not been issued, no one would have heard about him or his book and a few hundred books sold would have ended that chapter. The same would happen to Draw Mohammad Day as well.
    Blasphemy against Muhammad have been going on for 1400 years, people used to abuse him on his face, theres a very famous incidence of a woman throwing garbage on him everyday; one day she didnt show up so Mohammad actually went to ask about her, came to know she was sick and helped her.
    My fellow Muslims, i urge you all to ignore these little “:fitnas:”. Banning facebook? Ban the internet then because these images will be available all over the internet.
    Lets try being rational. Its time to show the world what we’re actually made of.

    I don’t expect to be taken seriously. I know many of you will brand me a KAFIR, or a zionist agent but remember that I spoke my mind, my views don’t make me any less muslim than anyone out there; everyone has a right to their opinion, and i choose to excersice this right just like anyone wishing to draw Mohammad’s pictures choose to use their right. All we can say is to ask them to respect our sentiments, if they do, we will be obliged but if they don’t, all we should say is “Lakum Deenukum waliuddin” which translates to [To you be your religion, and to me my religion]

    Be well!

    Be well!

    • Ali Masoud Abbasi

      I wonder if you have ever heard to “Nip the evil in the bud ?” Please try to keep in view a bit of the history of Islam, in 610 A.D. this develish attitude was born soon as Islam was proclaimed and it has been growing as the devil is growing older by the time. Before you start quoting references from Holy Quran, I would advise you to learn to view such matters in proper context.

  16. I m agree with Haya Khan. Face book must be banned for ever and we should also bycot the other sites having the material like this.


  17. Plz not fool the Muslims

  18. @Free Speech Fan
    you Call this freedom of expression???? Heads Up mate its a Blasphemy. Why would you express yourself if your expression is hurting billions of Muslims all over the world? the basic agenda behind this Freedom of speech is to hurt Muslims. Why don’t western media (so called Advocates of Freedom of Speech) start a hilarious cartoons at Holocaust ? they don’t talk about it because of UN resolution against denial of Holocaust (for details : http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/ga10569.doc.htm ) and they deny the prophets. Is that your freedom of expression??????
    and if you talk about fanatic Judges let me tell you that these bunch of fanatics saved Pakistan from being sold remember PSM case, Punjab Bank Case? would your non fanatic judges would ever done that? We love our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and that’s why we are protesting against this Blasphemous Competition? What would you have done if someone start swearing your mother in front of you and use abusive language? would you say that its Freedom of Speech???????

    • Robin Scott

      Hollocaust denial is an interesting comparison to draw.

      Another good one (though without the religious parallels) re social networks is what would they do if the groups used racially offensive language, such as the worst race / hate words? Would they ban the group / page or user who used racial slurs? I believe they probably would. They probably would have to.

      In many respects, this might fall under existing laws, but “freedom of speech” is a widely misunderstood term: there are a lot of things you cannot say or do (by law) but also a lot more things you SHOULD not say or do – simply because they are rude, hurtful and disrespectful to other human beings.

      I have tried to maintain respect for all concerned, though I fail to see how a Facebook group or page called “Draw Mohammed Day” is intended to do anything other than antagonise Muslim people, which makes the person who creates the group look bad in the eyes of any right and fair person.

      That being said, how one responds to such antagonism – particularly publicly – is important. Your response: to have reasonable debate, and to seek to explain how serious this is, in your view, seems to me one of the best.

      For my part, I simply think that a blanket ban will not achieve the ultimate aims, but then, I don’t imagine that a long-term ban was the intention. The intention was to attract attention to a harm being done. For that, see above…

    • you are very much right Haris. We salute you for being so expressive and logical. But at the same time, be informed that those people who are indulged in creating this trouble wont be fathomed by such sermons. Quran Says

      they are deaf, dumb, and blind.

  19. it’s amazing how you pick the sotry right when something happens in pakistan, but forget (or choose to ignore to report?) when the Everybody Draw Muhammad Day was put up on facebook and officially registered with a website of its own.

    talk about responsible journalism. ass one can really get today from you guys is selective news. i wonder if my comment will pass your “moderation” test.

    • Robin Scott

      Saniya, why would we have noticed something like that until it was reported in a court of record? We do not track every domain registration, and neither do we report stories that aren’t of global appeal. It isn’t about being irresponsible, it is a matter of being selective, and reporting stories when we are able to (I don’t use Facebook; I heard about this via an email from a newswire).

      It wasn’t until the Pakistan Government sought international attention for this item that it came to our attention at all – we didn’t learn of the original Facebook page and choose to ignore it, as your comment would appear to suggest.

      In the article, I make similar points to those you raise – namely, that there are similar breaches occuring all the time. I mention that there are over 2 million offending images on Google Image search alone; this shows that the Facebook decision is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and seems to be disproportionate. Irresponsible? That’s for you to decide, though it would be appreciated if you engaged with the content of the article, as well as the subject matter in so doing.

  20. Alhumdullilah the govt took some step. i was wondering why has the response been so late? but alhumdullilah, better late than never

  21. It seems that the Lahore High Court is not free from mad Judges. Thus, it would be in the fitness of things to keep the Judges, which have passed order to ban Facebook in Pakistan, in chains in a mental hospital. These Judges must be removed without any delay. The fanatic Judges have proved beyond shadow of doubt that they are members of certain fanatic party. That is the reason these Judges of Lahore High Court have caused injustice to the liberty of expression. These fanatic Judges of Lahore High Court will take time to understand that liberty of free expression is meaningless if right to offend is not included in it; and that the right to offend is meaningless if one is not allowed to exercise it against the foes. In these circumstances, the Chief Justice of Pakistan must intervene in the interest of liberty of expression by taking suo moto action against these Judges, and by recalling the order banning Face Book in Pakistan by these made Judges.

  22. that blockage made me alot happy today ! they deserve it!

  23. very excellent step from my govt of pakistan on facebook.
    and i want personaly to tells the govt to permanantly block this websit of facebook.
    because we can not any compromise on aur religion.
    we prefered 1st our islam ,
    and plzzzzz wake up my all muslims brother and sister,its a time or exam come on muslim,that what will doing muslims for the islam and PROPHET (P.B.U.H).?

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