Pakistan blocks Wikipedia over blasphemous content

Pakistan has blocked Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, for its failure to remove offensive or blasphemous material, the country’s telecommunication authority said on Saturday.

Image used only for representation. Photograph: Gary Cameron/Reuters

The blacklisting of Wikipedia comes days after the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) degraded Wikipedia services for 48 hours, threatening to block it if the content deemed ‘blasphemous’ was not deleted.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, created and edited by volunteers around the world and hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation.


PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid said the ban had primarily been imposed for non-compliance with the orders.

“The decision can be reviewed once Wikipedia removes sacrilegious content that has been identified by the regulatory authority,” the spokesperson added.

The PTA spokesperson earlier stated that Wikipedia was approached for blocking/removal of the said content by issuing a notice.

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 were degraded for 48 hours with the direction to block/remove the reported contents.

On Friday, the Wikimedia Foundation said ‘it does not make decisions around what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained’.

It added that this is ‘by design to ensure that articles are the result of many people coming together to determine what information should be presented on the site, resulting in richer, more neutral articles’.

‘As of Friday, February 3, our internal traffic reports indicate that Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects are no longer accessible to users in Pakistan,’ it said.

A block of Wikipedia in Pakistan denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository. If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s history and culture, it added.

‘We hope that the Pakistan government joins with the Wikimedia Foundation in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and restores access to Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects promptly so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world,’ it said.

Social media giants Facebook and YouTube have been blocked in the past over content deemed blasphemous.

In December 2020, the PTA issued notices to Wikipedia and Google Inc for ‘disseminating sacrilegious content’, while the country blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016.

Pakistan also blocked the video-sharing app TikTok several times in recent years over its failure to stop posting ‘indecent’ and ‘immoral’ content.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

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