Pakistan bans Facebook over Prophet cartoons

Islamabad, Lahore: 
Pakistani authorities on Wednesday cut off access to Facebook following a court's order to block the popular social networking website over a page featuring blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Justice Ijaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court issued the order to temporarily block Facebook till May 31 while acting on a petition filed by the Islamic Lawyers Forum, which had sought a complete ban on the website.

The court directed the foreign ministry to raise the issue of the blasphemous caricatures at international forums.

It also asked the Foreign Secretary to register a protest with the concerned countries.

Acting on the court's order, the Information Technology Ministry directed the Pakistan Telecommunication
Authority to block Facebook and all "other internet links displaying sacrilegious caricatures" of the Prophet Mohammed.

The ministry also directed PTA to "remain alert and watchful and block all such links displaying the profane caricatures immediately", an official statement said. The ministry asked people to inform it about "objectionable caricatures" at any website.

PTA also said it had established a "Crisis Cell" to monitor objectionable contents on websites.

Thousands of members of Facebook launched a campaign demanding a boycott of the website over the offending page called "Draw Mohammed Day" that invited people to send in caricatures of the Prophet till May 20.

The depiction of the Prophet in any form is strictly prohibited in Islam and Pakistan witnessed violent protests after blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Mohammed were carried in European newspapers in 2005.

Facebook users across Pakistan were unable to access the website on their computers by late afternoon. However, some users were able to log in to Facebook using their smartphones.

Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi strongly condemned the competition for blasphemous caricatures on Facebook. In a statement, he said the blocking of such websites would only provide a temporary solution as "anti-Islam elements have been hurting the sentiments of the Muslims in the past too".

An effective plan of action should be devised against the perpetrators of such acts, he said.

Kazmi urged Islamic countries to join hands for devising an effective policy so that nobody could dare publish such caricatures in future.

Religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Jamiat Tulba and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam organised protests against the caricatures on Facebook in Lahore, Kasur, Narowal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

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