Pakistan on Monday allowed internet users to access YouTube more than three years after the popular video-sharing website was blocked following violent protests over clips from the anti-Islam movie “Innocence Of Muslims”.
The information technology ministry ordered internet services providers (ISPs) to unblock the website across the country days after the Pakistan Telecom Authority, the telecom regulator, informed the Supreme Court that it is now possible to remove objectionable videos from the website after Google launched a localised version of YouTube for Pakistan.
The government blocked the website on September 17, 2012, after receiving complaints that clips from the contentious movie “Innocence Of Muslims” had been uploaded on YouTube from the US. Pakistan witnessed violent protests against the film, which caused uproar in the Muslim world.
At that time, it was not possible for Pakistani authorities to block access to clips from the movie without blocking the website’s IP address, which meant cutting off all access to YouTube.
Monday’s directive to ISPs to restore access to YouTube within 48 hours was widely welcomed by internet users across Pakistan.
“This is the best news ever for the IT industry,” said Jehan Ara, head of the Pakistan Software Houses Association. She said Pakistan’s IT industry had suffered immensely because of the ban.
Farieha Aziz, director of the NGO BoloBhi that campaigns for internet freedom, said, “The blocking of YouTube affected a number of sectors. It was as if Pakistan had been thrown back several decades by this move.”
Aziz said the only issue now was that the government has a bigger say in blocking “objectionable” content on YouTube, which means that it could block whatever it did not like.
Nayatel and Transworld users confirm access to YouTube in #Pakistan - without proxies and VPNs— Farieha Aziz (@FariehaAziz) January 18, 2016
This week, the telecom regulator told the Supreme Court that there was no reason left to continue blocking YouTube’s IP as all objectionable content had been removed from the localised version of the website.
Though Google made it possible for the Pakistan government to ask for the removal of objectionable videos, YouTube’s Urdu version had remained largely inaccessible inside the country because of threats from right-wing groups and others.
Google and PTA verified that the Urdu version of YouTube does not contain any known copies of offending material.
Nevertheless, if any such material appears on the website in the future, Google has “provided an online web process through which requests for blocking access (to) the offending material can be made by PTA to Google directly and Google/YouTube will accordingly restrict access to the said offending material for users within Pakistan”, a statement said.