Pakistan Blocks Facebook Over Contest to Draw Prophet Muhammad

By Farhan Sharif and Paul Tighe for Bloomberg Businessweek

Pakistan blocked a section of Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social-networking service, citing plans for a “blasphemous” competition inviting users to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Lahore High Court imposed the ban until May 31 and asked Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry to protest to the international community over the competition, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said on its website yesterday.

Pakistan needs an effective plan to prevent anti-Islam elements “hurting the sentiments of Muslims,” APP cited religious affairs minister Saeed Kazmi, as saying in Islamabad. Protesters gathered in Karachi holding banners and shouting slogans against Facebook yesterday and people circulated text messages asking users of the site in Pakistan to support the ban.

Cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005, provoked protests by Muslim communities around the world including Pakistan, home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemous by Muslims.

A Facebook user set up a page called “Draw Mohammed Day,” allegedly inviting people to send in their caricatures of the Muslim prophet by today, Agence France-Presse reported.

Kazmi called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to organize a meeting of Muslim countries and create a united policy for dealing with anti-Islamic moves, APP reported.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority imposed the ban after the high court ruling.

“We were instructed by the Ministry of Information Technology to block a link,” Khurram Mehran, spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, said by telephone from Islamabad yesterday.

The cartoons of the prophet printed in Danish newspapers in 2005 included one of him with a bomb in his turban and accompanied an article on freedom of speech and self-censorship in the media.

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