Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) warned Wikipedia that Wikipedia will be blocked in Pakistan if it fails to take down content deemed to be blasphemous within 48 hours. PTA did not, however, specify which Wikipedia content it viewed to be “blasphemous.” According to a press release dated February 1 and issued by PTA, it has degraded Wikipedia services in the country for the next 48 hours on account of not blocking/removing sacrilegious content from its platform.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Wednesday said it had “degraded” Wikipedia services on non-compliance with an earlier direction to remove “unlawful” content, according to a statement. While it did not elaborate on measures taken, some suggested the site had been throttled. If the platform fails to remove the content in question, Wikipedia “will be blocked within Pakistan,” the authority said, without specifying the information it wanted to be removed.
Wikipedia has, however, neither taken the alleged sacrilegious content down nor did it appear before the Pakistani telecommunication authority. “Wikipedia was approached for blocking/removal of the said contents by issuing a notice under applicable law & court order(s). An opportunity for a hearing was also provided, however, the platform neither complied by removing the blasphemous content nor appeared before the Authority. Given the intentional failure on part of the platform to comply with the directions of PTA, the services of Wikipedia have been degraded for 48 hours with the direction to block/remove the reported contents,” the press release read.
PTA has warned Wikipedia that its services will be blocked in Pakistan in case it fails to comply with its directions. According to Wahaj-us-Siraj, Chief Executive Officer of internet service provider Nayatel, “there is slowness and surely it will impact especially those who use Wikipedia for education and information purposes.”
Notably, amidst widespread riots over foodgrains and severe power outages as a result of the ongoing economic crisis in Pakistan, the country’s parliament has recently tightened the country’s draconian anti-blasphemy law. In January, the Parliament reinforced Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which are regularly applied to settle personal scores or to persecute minorities.
The laws, which currently carry the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, can now also be used to punish those found guilty of insulting those associated with him. The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023, which was unanimously approved by the Pakistan National Assembly last week, increased the minimum sentence for individuals who disrespect the holy figures of Islam.
Pakistan is experiencing its worst economic crisis in years as the country is dealing with a shortage of food, a shortage of power, sky-high inflation, and a collapsing currency. The economy of Pakistan has been spiraling out of control due to the vicious cycle of debt and partial payments. In addition to running out of money, Pakistan has also run out of flour to feed its population, and the country is facing massive power cuts as well.
With expanding debt, rising energy import costs, depleted foreign reserves, political instability, a protracted decline in GDP growth, and millions losing jobs, the country desperately needs a bailout. The situation in several cities of Pakistan is so grave that flour is being rationed and guarded by armed guards. Prices of flour and wheat have witnessed a dramatic surge.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, whose laws condone capital punishment for anyone convicted of affronting Islam. Authorities have in the past taken action against various social media platforms for broadcasting content deemed blasphemous.