ISLAMABAD: Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan on Saturday after authorities censored the website for hosting “blasphemous content” in the latest blow to digital rights in the deeply conservative nation.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.
The online encyclopedia had been blocked across the country on Friday “after it failed to respond to our repeated correspondence over removal of the blasphemous content and meet the deadline,” Malahat Obaid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, told AFP on Saturday.
The PTA had earlier in the week given Wikipedia a 48 hour ultimatum to remove material, without publically specifying its exact objections.
“They did remove some of the material but not all,” Obaid said. “It will remain blocked until they remove all the objectionable material.”
An AFP reporter in Pakistan was not able to access the site from a mobile phone on Saturday.
The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — said the block “denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository.”
“If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history, and culture,” a statement said.
Free speech campaigners have highlighted what they say is a pattern of rising government censorship of Pakistan’s printed and electronic media.
“There’s just been a concerted effort to exert greater control over content on the Internet,” said digital rights activist Usama Khilji.
“The main purpose is to silence any dissent,” he told AFP. “A lot of times blasphemy is weaponized for that purpose.”
Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 after it carried a film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to violent protests across the Muslim world.
In recent years, the country has also blocked the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.