Wikipedia ban shows "inconsistent attempts by Pakistani authorities to restrict internet access": Report

Islamabad [Pakistan], February 12 (ANI): The Wikipedia ban in Pakistan shows the "inconsistent and recurring attempts by Pakistani authorities to restrict internet access, a concerning pattern that "undermines the country’s nascent knowledge economy," Al Arabiya Post reported.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the media regulator of Pakistan, temporarily blocked access to Wikipedia over the presence of content that was considered insulting to Muslim sentiments, as per the news report. The people could not access Wikipedia for two days until Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif issued directives to restore it on February 6.

The ban on Wikipedia suggests that "Islamist groups and their radical ideologies continue to hold considerable sway in Pakistan, particularly on the matter of blasphemy, irrespective of which political party holds power in Islamabad," Al Arabiya Post reported. The allegations of blasphemy offence often lead to mob violence and attacks in Pakistan.

International and local human rights organizations have claimed that blasphemy accusations are often used to target minority religious groups and resolve personal grudges, as per the news report. At least 80 people have been killed in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations since 1990, the Al Arabiya Post report said. On February 1, PTA announced it was "degrading" access to Wikipedia in Pakistan due to the presence of "sacrilegious content" and gave the website 48 hours to remove them.

After the ban on February 4, the PTA said it blocked access to Wikipedia due to the website’s failure to remove the offensive content within a 48-hour deadline, as per the news report.

After the ban on Wikipedia in Pakistan on February 4, the Wikimedia Foundation said, "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. If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s history and culture," according to Al Arabiya Post reported.

Internet users in Pakistan criticized PTA’s decision to restrict access to Wikipedia. The excessive power given to the Pakistan government’s telecommunications authority and its effect on the freedom of speech in Pakistan has been a great concern for many people in the country, as per the news report.

Out of sheer helplessness, some people even called on the PTA to ban the internet if the authority aims to control the flow of information instead of regulating and enhancing telecommunications for the benefit of people. Pakistani authorities restored Wikipedia only after public outcry on social media.

At a time when many nations are liberalizing their outlook towards technology, Pakistan is going backwards, according to Al Arabiya Post report. Pakistan imposed the first ban on Wikipedia in May 2010 due to concerns over the presence of controversial material on the website, including "content related to blasphemy, pornography, and terrorism."Pakistan also twice blocked TikTok twice for allegedly sharing "immoral, obscene and vulgar" content. Previously, dating apps, including Tinder, Grindr, and others have been banned in Pakistan for allegedly sharing "immoral content." In 2010, Pakistan blocked YouTube over "growing sacrilegious content."Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government was overly concerned over data accessibility for the people of Pakistan and tried to pass legislation to access data servers and require tech companies to maintain a physical presence within the country for monitoring, as per the news report. This kind of approach hints at the ignorance and fear-driven measures regarding technology access. (ANI)