ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) unblocked Wikipedia on Tuesday, a day after the prime minister ordered it to restore access to the online encyclopedia restricted last week for “blasphemous content”.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted a copy of the order that read: “The Prime Minister is pleased to direct that the website (Wikipedia) may be restored with immediate effect.”
Prime Minister @CMShehbaz has directed that the Wikipedia website be restored with immediate effect. The Prime Minister has also constituted a Cabinet Committee on matters related to Wikipedia and other online content. pic.twitter.com/fgMj5sqTun
— Marriyum Aurangzeb (@Marriyum_A) February 6, 2023
The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — told AFP on Monday that it “was made aware that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority had been directed to restore access to Wikipedia” and hoped to see online traffic in Pakistan “resume soon.”
Last week, the PTA gave Wikipedia 48 hours to remove content deemed “blasphemous”, before it ultimately blocked the website.
An agency spokesman had said Saturday that Wikipedia would “remain blocked until they remove all the objectionable material”, without specifying what content was at issue.
According to the order published Monday, Shehbaz Sharif had instructed a committee made up of three government ministers to examine the PTA’s decision to block Wikipedia.
The committee found that the “unintended consequences of this blanket ban… outweigh its benefits”, the document, signed by the principal secretary to the prime minister, Syed Tauqeer Shah, said.
Another ministerial committee would be established to further examine the issue, it added.
“The people of Pakistan rely on Wikipedia both as a knowledge resource and as a pathway to share their knowledge with others”, a Wikimedia spokesperson said.
“Lifting this ban means that the people of Pakistan can continue to benefit from and participate in its growth within a global movement that strives to spread and share knowledge that is verified, reliable and free.”
The organisation did not immediately respond to an AFP query on if it had taken any action to remove certain content.
It said in a previous statement that “the Wikimedia Foundation does not make decisions around what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained.”
“We respect and support the editorial decisions made by the community of editors around the world,” it added.
Free speech campaigners have highlighted what they say is a pattern of rising government censorship of Pakistan’s printed and electronic media.
Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 after it carried a film about the prophet 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.