Pakistan reverses block on Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Wikimedia Foundation's logo.
Image: Wikimedia Foundation.

On Monday, Pakistan's government reversed its block on all Wikimedia Foundation projects, including the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had imposed the indefinite ban Friday, alleging the websites hosted "sacrilegious content" offensive to Islamic beliefs.

Human rights advocates rebuked the government over the block, including Amnesty International, which declared it an "unjustifiable restriction on the right to freedom of expression".

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif assembled a commission of five to investigate the block. On Monday, he instructed the PTA to, without delay, restore access to the websites.

Marriyum Aurangzeb, Pakistani Minister for Information and Broadcasting, tweeted Sharif's decree, which said: "The prime minister is pleased to direct that the website (Wikipedia) may be restored with immediate effect".

On February 1, the PTA stated "the services of Wikipedia have been degraded [sic] for 48 hours" and gave the Foundation until Friday night to remove "unlawful" content from its websites. The PTA warned it might block Wikipedia if "[the] Foundation failed to comply with the takedown orders".

A Wikimedia Foundation press release on Friday announced the block; PTA released a statement confirming it: "An opportunity of hearing was also provided, however, the platform neither complied by removing the blasphemous content nor appeared before the Authority".

The Foundation tweeted on Monday, "Wikipedia is no longer blocked in Pakistan. We are happy to say we have confirmed that traffic on @Wikipedia and other Wikimedia websites from Pakistan has resumed as before."

The Pakistani government has repeatedly blocked access to certain websites for its citizens, drawing fire from free speech activists, according to The Independent.

In 2010, Pakistan blocked Facebook amid the backlash to Internet users' advocacy for the creation of depictions of Muhammad; it eventually repealed the block. The government also blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 for hosting a movie about Muhammad, and asked the site in 2020 to prevent Pakistanis from accessing "objectionable" videos.

Additionally, the PTA earlier banned dating applications such as Tinder and Grindr, citing "immoral" components, and has repeatedly blocked TikTok, a Chinese social media application people in Pakistan alone have acquired millions of times.