The ‘unintended consequences’ of the blanket ban ‘outweigh its benefits’, the government says after two days of blocking the website.
Islamabad, Pakistan – In Pakistan, the ban on Wikipedia was lifted two days after it was imposed due to alleged blasphemous content.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday ordered the country’s telecom regulator to reinstate the online encyclopedia with “immediate effect”.
“Blocking the site in its entirety was not an appropriate measure to limit access to some objectionable content,” said a statement issued by Sharif’s office.
“The unintended consequences of this blanket ban therefore outweigh its benefits.”
The statement, shared on Twitter by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, also said the government had set up a committee to review the decision to ban the website as well as issues related to “other online content”.
Prime Minister @CMShehbaz has ordered the Wikipedia website to be reinstated with immediate effect. The Prime Minister also established a Cabinet Committee on matters related to Wikipedia and other Internet content. pic.twitter.com/fgMj5sqTun
— Marriyum Aurangzeb (@Marriyum_A) February 6, 2023
The commission will investigate and recommend alternative technical measures to deal with objectionable content on Wikipedia or other online information sites, bearing in mind the “social cultural and religious sensitivities” of the country, where the issue of blasphemy remains a highly contentious and sensitive issue.
At least 80 people have been killed in Pakistan on blasphemy charges since 1990, according to Al Jazeera, including family members of the accused, their lawyers and at least one judge.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, welcomed Pakistan’s move to restore the website.
“The lifting of this ban means that the people of Pakistan can continue to benefit and participate in its growth within a global movement that seeks to spread and share knowledge that is verified, reliable and free,” the statement said.
On February 1, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced that it was “downgrading” access to Wikipedia in the country due to the presence of “blasphemies”, giving the website 48 hours to remove them. He did not specify what content he considered sacrilegious.
Two days later, the PTA claimed there had been no response from Wikipedia and blocked the website, leading to widespread condemnation and outrage in the country.
In a February 4 statement, the Wikimedia Foundation said the ban “denies the world’s fifth most populous nation access to the largest free repository of knowledge.”
“If it continues, it will also deny everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history and culture,” it said.
The foundation also said it does not make decisions about what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained.
Pakistan has a history of blocking access to major websites, online games and social media applications.
YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing website, was blocked for more than three years in the country between 2012 and 2016 for content deemed “blasphemous” by the PTA.
In 2020, the Chinese social media app TikTok was banned for almost six months for “spreading obscenity and immorality”.