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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pakistan Lifts, Then Reinstates YouTube Ban

As my colleague Salman Masood reported on Twitter, online rejoicing at the end of Pakistan's three-month ban on YouTube was short-lived on Saturday, as the government reimposed the ban shortly after it was lifted following reports that copies of a low-budget film mocking the Prophet Muhammad appeared in searches of the site.

Just hours after the assistant director of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ordered internet service providers to “immediately unblock/restore” YouTube, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf “issued orders to block YouTube again,” a senior official told Agence France-Presse.

According to Pakistani journalists, the prime minister decided to reinstate the ban after the television channel Geo News reported that Pakistanis could still view the “Innocence of Muslims” film on YouTube, despite claims that the government would block the clip using filtering software.

Although Pakistani bloggers blamed Geo News for the reimposed ban, one of the channel's journalists who had searched for the offensive clip, Mansoor Ali Khan, mocked the government for the re versal and argued that he had only intended to demonstrate that the original ban had been ineffective. He noted that the prime minister acted less than 24 hours after Interior Minister Rehman Malik had announced that access to the site would be restored.

Another Geo News reporter, Maria Memon, wrote that she would not defend the role her station played in the debacle, but suggested that the some members of the government prefer to have the site blocked and had used the report as an excuse.

The government's sudden reversals on Saturday caused several Pakistani commentators to bitterly denounce the country's leaders for pandering to religious fundamentalists.

In a post headlined “The Great YouTube Escapade,” the blogger Kala Kawa concluded:

A confluence of idiocy of the sort that we see on a regular basis in Pakistan has ruled again. Courts that have somehow come to believe that they represent the will of the people, create orders that limit our agency in one wave of their robe. Journalists who have inflated their sense of self to the point where they no longer recognize themselves, inform us of how we ought to behave in our private lives. A civilian government that proclaims itself to be secular bends to the will of every right-wing demand at the expense of those that are ideologically aligned with them.

Unfortunately, none of this is new to us. Even worse, this is far from the last time something like this will happen to us.