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Pakistan bans Facebook, Youtube over 'Draw Mohammad Day'

Pakistan blocked YouTube, Wikipedia, and other websites Thursday to try to suppress a Facebook page declaring Thursday Everybody Draw Mohammad Day. Many protested the 'blasphemy' of depicting the prophet.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / May 20, 2010

Supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami protest in Peshawar against an online competition to draw pictures of Prophet Mohammad on Facebook which Muslims deem 'blasphemous' on Thursday. Pakistan has blocked Facebook, YouTube and other websites over 'Draw Mohammad Day'.

Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

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Islamabad, Pakistan

Pakistan has stepped up its campaign against a “blasphemous” online competition to draw the Prophet Mohammad by extending a ban on Facebook to YouTube, Wikipedia, mobile Blackberry services, and a number of other websites.

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The move was seen as a nod to public anger at Facebook users who created a page declaring Thursday “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day!” It is the latest incident of individuals flouting Islam’s taboo against depicting the prophet and provoking an angry response, in Pakistan and other predominantly Muslim countries. While some Pakistanis called the bans an overreaction, many rallied in support of the move.

"Everyone should take care not to hurt other's religious sentiments. The actions of Facebook are against our constitution and penal code," says Mohammad Azhar Siddique, one of the lawyers who petitioned the Lahore High Court for the ban. He adds that the government should also be held accountable for not taking actions to remove offending content earlier.

The country’s telecommunications authority was ordered by the Lahore court on Wednesday to temporarily block access to Facebook after users of the social networking site created a page declaring Thursday "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day!" The website had already prompted protests in Pakistan and spawned several other Facebook groups opposing it.

The decision to extend the Facebook ban to the other sites was meant to prevent users from accessing the material by other means. According to Alexa.com, which tracks web traffic, Facebook is the second most popular website globally. Youtube is No. 3 and Wikipedia is No. 6.

Blackberry users received SMS messages from their service providers informing them of the ban to comply with government instructions, which was lifted by the afternoon. Wahaj-us-Siraj, the CEO of Internet service provider Nayatel, told Reuters that his company had been asked to block popular videosharing website YouTube. The ban appeared to have been extended to photo-sharing website Flickr and online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The bans are set to last until at least May 31, when the next hearing in court is due.

Nationwide protests continued Thursday – in the city of Lahore, hundreds of people raised slogans praising the Facebook ban.

The last time Pakistani authorities banned material on the Internet was in 2007, to block YouTube and various blogs criticizing then-military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The Draw Mohammad page grew as a movement in response to Comedy Central’s decision to withdraw an episode of South Park in which Mohammad was depicted in a bear suit. The network withdrew the episode after receiving threats from a New York group called “Revolution Islam.”

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