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ISLAMABAD, May 20: Following strong criticism within the country, the government restored on Sunday the social networking website Twitter after keeping it blocked for more than eight hours.

The announcement regarding the unblocking of the website interestingly came directly from Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Twitter. “As committed, Twitter has been unblocked but I request (the management) to stop anti-Islam material on Twitter which hurts Muslim Ummah,” Mr Malik tweeted.

Claiming the credit for the restoration of the website, the minister said: “I spoke to the PM and informed (him) how the people are feeling about it (ban). (The) PM ordered to reopen the Twitter. I also spoke to (IT Minister) Raja Pervez Ashraf about it.”

Earlier in the day, the government blocked the site announcing that it had taken the extreme step when the management did not give an assurance regarding removal of the blasphemous material.

An official of the Ministry of Information and Technology had stated that every year a competition to post images of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was held on the Facebook, another social website, and Twitter was being used for its promotion.

The government’s move to block the website drew widespread criticism and statements by various human rights organisations started pouring into newspaper offices, criticising the move and terming it against the basic human rights.

Mohammad Yaseen, the chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the main organisation that controls and supervises internet services in the country, said the site had been blocked because many people considered images of the holy Prophet blasphemous, even if they were favourable.

The PTA chairman said initially the Twitter management had agreed to address Pakistan’s concerns about the competition, but later it refused to do so.

“We negotiated with them until Saturday night, but the management did not give any assurance that they will remove the material, so we had no option but to block it,” he said.

He said that the step to block Twitter had been taken on directives of the Ministry of Information and Technology.

It is to be mentioned here that in 2010, the Lahore High Court had ordered a ban on the Facebook and it was lifted only when the management blocked particular pages in Pakistan.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Director for Pakistan Ali Dayan Hasan, while commenting on the ban on Twitter, had stated that the government seemed to have been ill-advised on the issue as such moves always proved to be counter-productive. He was of the view that free speech could and should only be countered with free speech.

Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Zohra Yusuf told Dawn that rather than blocking Twitter, people should be given choice. If they don’t want to use it they will ignore it and if they want to use Twitter, they should be allowed.

Sohail Jamil, a software expert and a user of Twitter, said that there were so many softwares through which users could get access to Twitter so the government should not block the site. If people want to use it, they should be allowed to use it and if they don’t want to use it, they will not visit and open the website.

Another user, Rafique Sheikh, praised the decision of the PTA and said that Twitter should be banned in Pakistan as along as its management ensured that they would not upload that sort of material in future.