Islamabad, Feb. 8: Pakistan lifted its ban on Wikipedia services before dawn Tuesday, after the country's media regulator blocked the site last week for not removing purportedly blasphemous content, claiming it hurts the sentiments of Muslims.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered the unblocking late on Monday, according to a government statement. The site was blocked on Friday by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, after a deadline expired that Pakistan gave to Wikipedia to remove the controversial content.
The ban drew criticism and many condemned Islamabad's action, saying it was a blow to digital rights and deprived the public of the right to seek knowledge.
As anger grew, Pakistan's Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Monday that Sharif's five-member committee had looked into the matter and ordered Wikipedia services be restored immediately.
The government has not provided any explanation or details about the content it deemed anti-Islam, and the media regulator never explained what content was purportedly hurting Muslim sentiments in Pakistan.
Under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or its figures can be sentenced to death, although the country has yet to carry out capital punishment for blasphemy.
But even allegations of the offense are often enough to provoke mob violence and even deadly attacks. International and domestic rights groups say that accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
The Wikimedia Foundation welcomed the lifting of the ban. Its statement said the lifting of the ban "means that the people of Pakistan can continue to benefit from and participate" in the growth of a global movement "to spread and share knowledge that is verified, reliable and free."
In the past, Pakistan briefly banned TikTok twice for uploading immoral content. Also, in 2008, Pakistan banned YouTube over videos depicting the Prophet Muhammad, drawing angry nationwide protests as Muslims consider any physical depiction of the prophet blasphemous.
A computer screen displays a notice blocking the Wikipedia website through an online news site in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)