Pakistan's Block on Twitter Over Blasphemous Content Reversed

Pakistan late Sunday reversed a block on Twitter in the country over material it considered anti-Islam, the country's interior minister said.

Twitter however said it had not done a deal with the Pakistani government which in the past has threatened to put curbs on the Internet over content considered blasphemous or pornographic. "There have been no changes by us," said spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

The microblogging site was unblocked at the orders of the country's prime minister, interior minister Rehman Malik said in Twitter messages on Sunday, but he requested that anti-Islam material that hurts the feeling of people should be stopped on Twitter.

The government may have backed down in the face of protests from civil groups, but the dispute may be far from over.

In a message later, Malik said the issue was taken up with the management of Twitter, but was declined. "Notice is now being served to twitter through Interpol to block such material," he added.

On Saturday, the country's newly appointed minister for information technology, Raja Parvez Ashraf told reporters about his concern about blasphemous content on different websites and threatened that Twitter would be banned soon if the company did not comply with the government's orders, according to activist group, Bytes for All, Pakistan.

Within half an hour of this statement, past midnight, an official directive was issued to all Internet service providers in the country and Twitter "started disappearing from Pakistani Cyberspace starting 10 a.m." on Sunday, according to a statement on Sunday by Bytes for All.

The IT ministry was not immediately available for comment on the block on Twitter.

"We feel that probably it was a test run for lot more to come in the future," said Shahzad Ahmad, country coordinator for Bytes for All, Pakistan about the government reversal of the block on Twitter. "We feel that it was an exercise to test the capacity as how they can implement such bans when needed."

Pakistan's bid to place curbs on the Internet is not new. It floated in February a request for proposal (RFP) for a system to filter and block websites. The RFP was put out by the National ICT R&D Fund of the country's ministry of information technology.

A court in Pakistan issued notices to the government last month after seven persons moved the court against alleged arbitrary acts of online censorship and website blocking by Pakistani authorities.

"We are already living in a security state with highest possible surveillance upon its citizens," Ahmad said.

In 2010, Facebook was blocked for about two weeks by a court because of a group page called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day !", that allegedly invited users to draw cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, which are prohibited in some Muslim traditions. The page was later blocked in Pakistan by Facebook which cited "respect for local rules." The Twitter messages that provoked the government this time also referred to a similar contest, according to some reports.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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