The micro-blogging website, Twitter, has honoured five requests put forth by an official from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block tweets that he regarded as blasphemous, a report published in the New York Times said.
All five requests were made in the month of May by the PTA’s Abdul Batin who had asked Twitter to censor accounts, tweets or searches on the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”
Twitter honoured all requests which called for the blocking of content from drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), photographs of burning copies of the Holy Quran and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers as well as an American porn star who now attends Duke University, the NYT report said.
The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan is in line with Twitter’s country-specific censorship policy that it made public in 2012.
The NYT report moreover said that it was the first time that the social network had agreed to block content in Pakistan.
Though it has previously agreed to block content in other countries, including neo-Nazi tweets in Germany, this is the first time the social network has agreed to block material in Pakistan.
The move is in line with the social network’s country-specific censorship policy which was first unveiled in 2012. The policy allows for any tweets a user can see to be modified on a country-by-country basis.
“Twitter, which has trumpeted its commitment to free speech, argues that it is a lesser evil to block specific tweets that might violate local laws than to have the entire site blocked in certain countries,” the Times reported.
Pakistan’s IT regulator has a special page where anyone can register a complaint related to blasphemy.
It is pertinent to mention that In May 2012, Twitter was briefly blocked in Pakistan over ‘blasphemous’ posts about a Facebook competition involving caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
The website had been blocked by the PTA on the orders of the Ministry for Information Technology amid accusations it refused to remove messages about the Facebook contest.
The ban had sparked anger, and many in Pakistan appeared to have found a way to circumvent the restrictions and post on the microblog regardless.
Several hours after it was cut off, the PTA had restored access to the website.
Blocking posts, not the entire site
Requesting social media sites to block content rather than governments blocking entire networking sites may be the main appeal here.
In September 2012, Pakistan ordered video-sharing website YouTube be blocked over its hosting of the “Innocence of Muslims” movie that sparked furious protests around the world.
Twitter’s compliance with the PTA’s requests comes at a time when Pakistan is already confronted with multiple censorship challenges. At the same time, discussion on the country’s blasphemy laws has also become increasingly precarious with the targeting of secularists.