Pak lifts ban on YouTube
Pakistan has restored access to YouTube, but several hundred pages on the popular video sharing website will remain blocked because of "blasphemous" content, officials said on Thursday.
"YouTube has been unblocked, but the links to sacrilegious content would remain inaccessible in Pakistan," Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), told AFP.
A spokesman for Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed that the blanket ban had been lifted on YouTube -- one of the most popular websites in the country of 170 million.
"They issued the orders last night. Then they issued a list of particular URLs they say should be kept blocked while the whole site needs to remain open," Wahaj us Siraj told AFP.
"There are 200-plus particular links or URLs of YouTube that need to be blocked," he said.
Internet users in Pakistan are now able to access YouTube for the first time since the entire website was banned last Thursday in the wake of public outrage about caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared on Facebook.
A private Facebook user organised an "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day" competition to promote "freedom of expression", which sparked a major backlash among Islamic activists in the conservative Muslim country.
Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and the row sparked comparison with protests across the Muslim world over the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in European newspapers in 2006.
Several thousand Pakistanis took to the streets at the behest of religious groups to protest, but demonstrations have been peaceful.
In the wake of the controversy, the PTA banned access to Facebook, YouTube, restricted access to Wikipedia and around 800 links, over what it called "growing sacrilegious content" on the Internet.
A court in the eastern city of Lahore ordered the block on Facebook until at least May 31, when it is scheduled to hear a petition from Islamic lawyers.
But although the caricatures were universally condemned in Pakistan, members of the Internet-literate urban elite criticised the blanket ban on websites.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Wednesday that pages containing blasphemous material would remain blocked but the ban on popular sites including Facebook and YouTube would be lifted in the next few days.
"We discussed this matter in the cabinet meeting today. I told my colleagues that blocking the websites was not the right thing," Malik told AFP.
"I said that only particular pages that contain blasphemous material should be blocked, not the entire website," said Malik.
The government said the cabinet "strongly condemned" the sketches of Prophet Mohammed and ordered the information technology ministry "to ensure that such blasphemous material is not allowed to appear on the Internet in Pakistan."
Pakistan also briefly banned YouTube in February 2008 in a similar protest against "blasphemous" cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.