LAHORE: (Media Staff) After a ban of almost three years, video sharing website Youtube was accessible in many parts of the country on Sunday.
The cities where the site was operational include Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan since September, 2012, when the website management turned down Pakistan government request to block the blasphemous video ‘Innocence of Muslims’, for local viewership.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, on Sunday reportedly maintained that YouTube was still officially banned, and there was no change in the government’s stance on it.
The reasons for the sudden restoration of YouTube are still unclear.
Some believe that the site was accessible as one of the four submarine cables that connect the country with the internet is under maintenance, and its traffic has been diverted to some European country where the website is accessible. However, others believe that it was due to some technical fault at PTA that it was accessible in the country.
This is not the first time that YouTube has been restored under mysterious circumstances. How long the website would remain accessible is still unclear.
In February 22, 2008, YouTube was blocked in Pakistan following a decision taken by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority because of the number of “non-Islamic objectionable videos”. One report specifically named Fitna, a controversial Dutch film, as the basis for the block. Pakistan, an Islamic republic, ordered its ISPs to block access to “for containing blasphemous web content/movies”. Blasphemy law in Pakistan calls for life imprisonment or death. This followed increasing unrest in Pakistan by over the reprinting of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons which depict satirical criticism of Islam. Router misconfiguration by one Pakistani ISP on February 24, 2008 effectively blocked YouTube access worldwide for several hours. On February 26, 2008, the ban was lifted after the website had removed the objectionable content from its servers at the request of the government.
It has been suggested by some Pakistani web sites, blogs, and by electoral process watchdog groups that the block was imposed largely to distract viewers from videos alleging vote-rigging by the ruling MQM party in the February 2008 general elections. Allegations of suppressing vote-rigging videos by the Musharraf administration were also leveled by Pakistani bloggers, newspapers, media, and Pakistani anti-Musharraf opposition parties.
On May 20, 2010, on Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Pakistan again blocked the website in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material. The ban was lifted on May 27, 2010, after the website removed the objectionable content from its servers at the request of the government. However, individual videos deemed offensive to Muslims that are posted on YouTube will continue to be blocked.
On September 17, 2012, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ordered access to YouTube blocked, after the website did not remove the trailer of Sam Bacile’s Innocence of Muslims, a film insulting Islam and eventually resulting in a ban due to YouTube’s non compliance.
Bytes for All, a Pakistani non-profit organization, filed a constitutional challenge to the ban through their counsel Yasser Latif Hamdani in the Lahore High Court. This is an ongoing case and is commonly known as the YouTube case.
On December 11, 2013, it was announced by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority that they have convinced Google’s management to offer a local “youtube.com.pk” version to Pakistan, as it will be easy for the local authorities to remove “objectionable” material from a local version as compared to the global version of YouTube. However, it will be offered only after the Pakistani government fulfills some of the undisclosed requirements.
During the ban a video was released called “Kholo BC” by rappers Adil Omar and Ali Gul Pir opposing the ban. The video went viral and thousands of people supported that the ban is due to political interest.
On April 21, 2014, Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights approved a resolution to lift the ban on YouTube.
On 6 May 2014, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding resolution to lift the ban, but as of 2 August 2014 it was still in effect.