Pakistan Shuts Down Facebook Over ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed’ Page

Pakistani judges ruled to ban Facebook in the country Wednesday in anticipation of May 20, which a Facebook Page had claimed would be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” The ban began Wednesday evening and is to be in effect at least until the end of the month. Tuesday the Page had about 42,000 fans and it’s since almost doubled to about 82,000; there are also countless imitation Pages and dozen upon dozens of opposition Pages (some opposition is voice right on the Wall of the original Page).

Some Muslims consider depicting the Prophet Mohammed offensive, which likely prompted the ban. In a previous instance of this sort of controversy, there were angry protests around the Muslim world in 2005 after a Danish newspapers published cartoons of Mohammed dressed as a terrorist.

Facebook responded to the ban with a lengthy statement late Wednesday evening, noting the company was “very disappointed” with the Pakistani courts’ decision to block the site “without warning” because just because something is offensive doesn’t mean it needs to be removed completely from the discussion. The company said it is, “analyzing the situation and the legal considerations” to take the appropriate action, which could include making the content in question inaccessible in Pakistan.

The company also said it wants to maintain an open platform for its 400 million-plus users, which may mean some will be offended by other users’ content. Facebook used Nazi content as an example of the difficulties in maintaining a global network. In some countries Nazi content is illegal, while in others it’s not saying, “but that does not mean it should be removed entirely from Facebook.”

Facebook has business to lose if this ban remains long-term or spreads to other Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian countries, given the recent deal the company signed with Cairo-based Connect Ads. The three-year deal would create culturally appropriate ads for 15 countries in the Middle East, from Morocco to Pakistan, and reach more than 15 million users in a region that has been growing steadily during recent months.

Pakistani judges on the Lahore High Court issued an order to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block the Facebook web site in the country until at least May 31 in response to a petition filed by a group of lawyers called the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement; the group called the page “blasphemous.”

Otherwise, Pakistan is seeing a lot of new Facebook users. It doubled its gains in January and most recently we reported in Inside Facebook Gold that the current user count there was at 2.2 million. The Internet is not censored in Pakistan, but the government routes all traffic through a central exchange; previously the government blocked pornographic and anti-Islamic sites, as well as a ban of YouTube in 2007.

Khoram Ali Mehran of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority told CNN:

“Obviously it (the blocking of Facebook) is related to the objectionable material that was placed on Facebook. That is why it is blocked. We have blocked it for an indefinite amount of time. We are just following the government’s instructions and the ruling of the Lahore High Court. If the government decides to unblock it then that’s what we will do.”

The idea for the Facebook Page sprung out of a recent episode of the cartoon show “South Park” in which the Muhammad was depicted, although the network censored part of the show when it aired. Consequently several artists and others took to Facebook and the Internet to depict Muhammad ostensibly to support freedom of speech; the Facebook Page notes:

“Hopefully this page will spark seroius [sic] debates in international forums. This page will continue to exist and the date will remain the same. PS: We are not trying to slander the average muslim , its not a muslim/islam hatepage [sic]. We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions, that we’re not afraid of them. That they can’t take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence.”

The Page advertises that “May 20th 2010 is draw Mohammed day! Help spread knowledge about this important day – invite your friends!” The administrator has a blog and there’s also a web site corresponding to the Page. In an upcoming series of stories Inside Facebook, we’ll be examining the relationship between some religions and their Facebook presence.

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Leave a Reply

8 Responses to “Pakistan Shuts Down Facebook Over ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed’ Page”

  1. Khanan B. says:

    “just because something is offensive doesn’t mean it needs to be removed completely from the discussion.”

    Good luck explaining that to Pakistani Muslims.

  2. Umair Jabbar says:

    “Some Muslims consider depicting the Prophet Mohammed offensive, which likely prompted the ban.”

    That should be all Muslims because there is no Muslim who wouldn’t find this offensive

  3. Zia says:

    “Draw Muhammad” page to FoxNews.com earlier this week:

    “Groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs — even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some — do not by themselves violate our policies.”

    But compare that to this quote from an interview with a Facebook spokesman last year with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Things were different when the topic was not anti-religion pages, but about pages that include racism:

    “However, there is no place for content that is threatening, abusive, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable on the site and Facebook will remove any such content that violates our Terms of Use when it is reported… We have already removed a number of groups that violated these terms and we are continuing to be vigilant, immediately removing further postings when we become aware of them.”

  4. Muhammad Hammad Khan says:

    By BLOCKING FACEBOOK in PAKISTAN we have proved that PAKISTAN IS THE FORT OF ISLAM. By BLOCKING FACEBOOK, YOUTUBE, FLICKER, VTUNNEL, WIKIPEDIA….in PAKISTAN the other countries take this matter seriously. All MUSLIMS love HAZRAT MUHAMMAD (P.B.U.H). ALLAMA IQBAL said “KI MUMMAD SE WAFA TUNEY TO HUM TEREY HAIN ; YE JAHAN CHEEZE HAI KIA LAHO QALUM TEREY HAIN”. So, we protest and we want everyone not to do that again and to remove those pages from the WEB.

  5. shayan says:

    Article in a leading Pakistan daily, Dawn news

    “Playing Fair?

    The controversy over the Facebook ban continues. One Facebook user, Saad Warriach is particularly upset: his account has permanently been disabled by Facebook and the decision is final.

    Warriach, a student at IBA, saw the ‘Draw Mohammed Day’ group on May 18, 2010. Angered and insulted, he decided to prove his point by creating a page called ‘H | T L E R.’ The page was taken down and his account disabled sometime between May 19 and early morning May 21. “I was aware of the terms and conditions and knew they [Facebook] would take some sort of action. I didn’t think they would delete my account,” said Warriach. He received an email from Facebook explaining why:

    “After reviewing your situation, we have determined that you violated our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. One of Facebook’s main priorities is the comfort and safety of our users.

    “We do not tolerate hate speech. Targeting people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or disease is a serious violation of our standards and has resulted in the permanent loss of your account.

    “We will not be able to reactivate your account for any reason. This decision is final.”

    According to Warriach he posted one picture of Adolf Hitler and three pictures of Paolo di Canio – an Italian football player who was banned and fined by Fifa for his right-hand salute during football matches. In the information section of the page he wrote: “To all those who think they can ridicule Islam in the name of freedom of expression and yet punish those who speak of the genius of Hitler” Over 30 people joined the group within an hour and Warriach is unable to confirm the numbers of the group before his account was disabled.

    Admittedly, the group was offensive and insensitive, and was rightly taken down. However, a statement from Facebook on May 20 states:

    “While some kinds of comments and content may be upsetting for someone – criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle, or political ideology, for example – that alone is not a reason to remove the discussion.

    “We strongly believe that Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.”

    The statement also noted that “Nazi content is illegal in some countries” but at the same time said “that does not mean it should be removed entirely from Facebook.”

    If that were true, how is it that Warriach’s (given that his side of the story is accurate) account was disabled when his page could have been censored and blocked in certain countries, or just taken down completely? Why is Facebook disabling accounts at its discretion when it refused to take action when the ‘Draw Mohammed Day’ group was reported as offensive by thousands of Muslims across the world? Both the groups are equally distasteful and affect thousands of people across the world, which is why free speech and hate speech should not be confused – the grey area differentiating the two is murky and must be treaded carefully. Facebook should have treated the two groups in the same context, that it is highly offensive to those concerned, and their decision to take action or inaction should have been the same.

    Don’t get me wrong, the debate is not over whether people of Jewish descent are given a preferential treatment while the same isn’t meted out to the Muslim community. Far from it, the debate is about policy and its implementation across the board.

    Maybe the team at Facebook needs to re-evaluate their terms and conditions in order for it to be known more for its popularity among networking sites rather than being known as the controversial website that doesn’t play fair.”

  6. Herdict Blog » Blog Archive » Pakistan Lifts Facebook Ban; Bangladesh Cracks Down says:

    [...] court order. The order followed a complaint by the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement, a group that petitioned the court, calling the Facebook group [...]

  7. Project on Information Technology & Political Islam » Blog Archive » News: Pakistan lifts, while Bangladesh joins Facebook ban says:

    [...] high court order. The order followed a complaint by the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement, a group that petitioned the court, calling the Facebook group [...]

  8. FREEDOM OF (HATE)SPEECH: GADI ADELMAN | RUTHFULLY YOURS says:

    [...] it comes to Islam, we know how easily offense is taken.  Pakistan shut down Facebook for 11 days back in May 20, 2010. Yes, Pakistan, as in the whole country, in protest against [...]

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