ISLAMABAD, Dec 29: The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority shut down YouTube again on Saturday evening after opening the video-sharing website for about two hours.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT) directed the authority, which overlooks operations of all internet service providers in the country, to unblock the second most accessed website at 2:35pm. But Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf issued directives to the ministry to block the website again. It was blocked before 4:30pm.
The PTA blocked more than 750 YouTube links that could possibly connect internet users to the anti-Islam video film, ‘Innocence of Muslims’.
The government imposed a ban on the site on Sept 17 following orders from Prime Minister Ashraf and days of protests in the country and around the world after a translated version of an amateur film attacking the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was posted on an Egyptian website.
The original English-language version was posted on YouTube in July.
Despite Pakistan’s requests to Google to take down the video or block links to ‘Innocence of Muslims’, the owners of the subsidiary YouTube did not oblige.
The American firm said it did not have any agreement with the government of Pakistan to block websites or cut off links.
Pakistan had blocked YouTube before when sacrilegious sketches started appearing in 2008.
In 2010, the government blocked both YouTube and Facebook when objectionable content was increasingly shared on them.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had hinted on Friday about lifting of the ban on YouTube.
But IT Member Ismail Shah said the MoITT had as standard procedure, re-opened video-sharing website briefly to check if the anti-Islam content had not been posted on new links and then access was cut off.
“The instructions from the top to open YouTube were provisional and subject to review,” said Mr Shah.
The official explained that a report would be prepared and presented before the departments concerned and a decision on the matter would be taken in a week.
The prime minister’s press secretary, Shafqat Jalil, said that he was not aware of technicalities and processes behind unblocking the website.
“The prime minister ordered the website blocked as soon as he learnt that YouTube is made accessible to the masses,” Shafqat Jalil said, explaining that he was not responsible for comments made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik or the processes of MoITT when he was asked why the site was opened countrywide if the government only had to confirm if YouTube did not have objectionable material.
According to some officials in both PTA and MoITT, the government was more concerned about law and order situation than sacrilegious content on YouTube.
“It is the way people react and become violent and start burning things in their way. YouTube is accessible today to everyone in the world except the approximately 10 million internet users in Pakistan,” said a senior official in the MoITT, hinting that the users of YouTube should not be barred from accessing the popular website.
There has been much discontent in the country with the ban on YouTube over the last three months, also affecting Android mobile phone services.
“YouTube is a platform for education and for exposure to cultural activities that people in our country need to experience. The ridiculous anti-Islamic video was simply no reason to deny the people all that,” said YouTube enthusiast Hasan Fancy, who used the website for both music and work reasons.
Chaudhry Tahir, an entrepreneur in Islamabad and another enthusiast who often used the file-sharing website for business purposes, was equally disappointed.
“My clients have had much difficulty accessing the materials my company posted on YouTube over the last three months,” Chaudhry Tahir said.
The PTA’s director-general, Sajjad Latif, said that blocking and unblocking YouTube was a click away.
“We cannot say how long it will take before the government instructs the MoITT to restore YouTube,” said Sajjad Latif.