A ban on YouTube, which Pakistan imposed after an anti-Islam video caused riots in much of the Muslim world, was lifted Saturday, only to be reinstated - after three minutes - when it was discovered that blasphemous material was still available on the site.
After months of criticism of the ban, the government decided to allow Pakistanis to have access to YouTube again, saying steps had been taken to ensure that offensive content would not be visible. But those efforts apparently failed, and the authorities quickly backtracked.
The ban was imposed on Sept. 17 following violent protests in response to the video, which was made in the United States and ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad. The government then ordered all telecommunications companies to block Internet material deemed offensive to Muslims and urged people to report such material.
But the ban on YouTube came to be seen as censorship, and a growing number of the estimated 25 million Internet users in the country complained.
"This is purely a naked power play by the government and one that we should resist," an editorial in The Express Tribune, an English-language daily newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan, said Friday. "This is about controlling our behaviour and denying us access to the Internet."
"We need to make it clear that we do not wish to regress to a dark age when a centralized authority controlled all access to information," the editorial, observing the 100th day of the ban, went on to say. "Retreating to such an era would essentially mean that we were no longer living in a democracy."
By Friday evening, Rehman Malik, the country's interior minister, indicated that the ban would be lifted over the weekend. Malik said firewalls were being installed by government technicians to block pornographic and blasphemous material.
On Saturday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority directed local Internet service providers to make YouTube accessible. But by the afternoon, Geo, a private television news network that wields immense influence, reported that anti-Islam and blasphemous material was still available on YouTube. The criticism was led by Ansar Abbasi, a right-leaning journalist who often speaks out on morality and religion.
Yielding to the criticism, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf then ordered providers to again block access to the video-sharing site.
The flip-flop drew an immediate rebuke from users and led to a flurry of jokes on Twitter about the government's dithering and backtracking.
"YouTube is a huge convenience for users, who benefit from it for educational as well as entertainment purposes," Zubair Kasuri, the editor of Flare, a Karachi-based telecommunications magazine, said in a telephone interview. Kasuri expressed surprise over the government's failure to install an effective firewall mechanism despite having months to do so.
© 2012, The New York Times News Service