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Pakistan Demands Filters Before Lifting YouTube Ban

Supporters of the Islamist Pakistani party Jamaat-e Islami protest against an online competition to draw pictures of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook in Peshawar in 2010. Facebook also faced a temporary ban.
Pakistan is pushing Google to install a "proper filtration system" before lifting a nine-month ban on its video-sharing website, YouTube.

Speaking to RFE/RL, officials in Pakistan Information Technology Ministry emphatically rejected rumors that Islamabad had threatened to ban Google's search site and other products if the tech giant failed to comply with its request to remove what Pakistanis view as blasphemous videos from YouTube.

Pakistan's new information technology minister, Anusha Rahman, said Islamabad was only interested in removing material viewed as offensive by the Muslim nation of 180 million.

"We wish to have an efficient and effective mechanism -- filters in place for blocking blasphemous contents before YouTube can be unblocked in Pakistan," she said in a statement after rumors of a possible ban on Google made waves on the Internet.

Rahman also used the micro-blogging website Twitter to respond to critics. "We need technology, but without compromising on our moral, religious and ethical values," she wrote in response to concerns about a blanket ban on Google.

She wrote that the new administration expects progress through "affirmative action." "We need to do our best and find apt solutions and alternatives. We can't block indefinitely, this is not the way forward," she said.

But the government might not be the only Pakistani institution capable of ending the YouTube ban. The country's assertive Supreme Court has reportedly ordered its own probe into "blasphemous" material on the Internet.

The court has taken up a new case that is seeking to block "ever-increasing blasphemous material circulating in the Internet domain, having for reaching implications on the minds, the lives and liberties of mainstream Muslim population."

Pakistan banned YouTube in September after clips of the movie "Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests because they were considered blasphemous for defaming Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The country had earlier tried to ban YouTube in 2008. It had temporarily banned Facebook over controversial caricatures of Muhammad in 2010. It also pulled the plug on Twitter last year for the same reason.

Google has restricted access to the videos in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Turkey. In addition, the videos were temporarily restricted from view in Egypt and Libya.

But the company does not have a filtered YouTube version for Pakistan because its takes time to research the country's laws and building partnerships with local content creators.

Free-speech advocates are troubled by the prolonged ban on YouTube. Writing in the daily "The Express Tribune," journalist Jehanzaib Haque has advised Google to stand up to the pressure from the Pakistani government and refuse to deprive its citizens of information.

He said that "Google should ban Pakistan" to make its point.

-- Abubakar Siddique