7 February 2023
By Rehan Piracha
The Lahore High Court has allowed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block more websites sharing ‘objectionable material’ as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the restoration of access to Wikipedia blocked on February 3.
The PTA blocked the information-sharing website Wikipedia after it failed to remove sacrilegious content. Civil society, technology firms, universities, and academicians termed Wikipedia’s blocking a violation of citizens’ right to access information guaranteed by the Constitution.
Responding to the public outcry, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday ordered restoration of access to the Wikipedia website immediately. “The Prime Minister has also constituted a Cabinet Committee, headed by Information Technology Minister Aminul Haq, on matters related to Wikipedia and other online content,” Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said in her tweet, sharing a copy of the order from the Prime Minister’s Office for restoration of the Wikipedia site in the country. The committee is to submit its recommendations in a week’s time.
Earlier in the day, the LHC judge Shujaat Ali Khan gave permission to the PTA to block websites sharing ‘objectionable material’ in the country. The court direction came during a hearing of a petition seeking action against the publication and uploading of copies of the Holy Quran with distorted Arabic text and mutilated translation on the Internet and Google Play Store to mislead the Muslims allegedly by the Ahmadi community and other non-Muslims.
In the last hearing, the lawyer for the PTA informed the court that the websites listed in the letter by the secretary of the Punjab Quran Board could not be blocked with a court order according to Google policy. The PTA counsel said Wikipedia and other sites with objectionable material were not registered in Pakistan. He said Wikepedia had been blocked in the country for the same reasons. Justice Shujaat Ali Khan allowed the telecom regulator to block all such websites sharing objectionable content in the country. The court sought a progress report from the PTA on the next date of hearing on February 16.
In a statement on February 6, 72 organisations from civil society and the business community, 15 representatives from universities and 24 citizen stakeholders from across Pakistan condemned the blocking of Wikipedia by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on February 3, 2023, after “degrading” access to the platform for 48 hours on February 1, 2023.