Pakistan blocks Wikipedia citing ‘sacrilegious’ content

Regulator says the website had until late Friday to heed its warning, without elaborating on the content in question.

The Wikimedia Foundation called on the Muslim-majority country to restore access to Wikipedia [File: Boris Roessler/EPA]

Pakistan has banned Wikipedia after threatening the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia over what it has labelled “sacrilegious content”, the Wikimedia Foundation announced on Saturday.

Social media giants Facebook and YouTube have also been blocked in the past by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority over content deemed blasphemous, a highly sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Their ban was lifted.

According to local media outlet Dawn, a PTA spokesperson said the website was blocked on Saturday due to non-compliance with the institution’s order.

The PTA on Wednesday said the website had until late Friday to heed the warning, without elaborating on the content in question.

“PTA has degraded Wikipedia services in the country on account of not blocking/removing sacrilegious contents,” the authority added.

The website has previously faced restrictions on some of its pages.

In response to the PTA, the Wikimedia Foundation – which runs Wikipedia – called on Pakistani authorities to restore access to the website.

“We believe that access to knowledge is a human right. A block of Wikipedia in Pakistan denies the 5th most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository,” it posted on Twitter on Saturday.

“We hope that the Pakistan government joins us in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and restores access to Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects promptly, so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.”

Pakistanis on social media criticised the decision as a “regressive” move and an embarrassment to the country’s global image.

Freedom of speech advocates have long criticised what they say is creeping government censorship and control of Pakistan’s internet and printed and electronic media.

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 2020, Pakistani regulators had asked YouTube to immediately block all videos they consider “objectionable” from being accessed in the country, a demand criticised by rights campaigners.

In recent years, the country has also blocked the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.

The app, owned by China-based ByteDance, has been downloaded millions of times in Pakistan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies