Pakistan lifts YouTube restrictions

February 26, 2008 3:32:01 PM PST
Pakistan's telecoms regulator said Tuesday it has lifted restrictions on the YouTube Web site that led to the knocking out of access to the popular video-sharing site in many other countries for a few hours over the weekend. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ordered 70 domestic Internet service providers to restore access to the site after removal of what government officials had deemed a "blasphemous" video clip.

Pakistan ordered YouTube blocked on Friday over a clip featuring a Dutch lawmaker who has said he plans to release a movie portraying Islam as fascist and prone to inciting violence. As a result, most of the world's Internet users lost access to YouTube for several hours on Sunday.

While a number of other videos featuring the politician, Geert Wilders, would remain visible to Pakistani Internet users, the one which was removed had been "totally anti-Quranic ... very blasphemous," said Pakistan Telecommunication authority spokeswoman Nabiha Mahmood.

She said it promoted Wilders' upcoming movie, but provided no details of its content.

An Internet expert said Sunday's problems came after a Pakistani telecommunications company complied with the block by directing requests for YouTube videos to a "black hole." So instead of serving up videos of skateboarding dogs, it sent the traffic into oblivion.

The problem was that the company also accidentally identified itself to Internet computers as the world's fastest route to YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc. That led requests from across the Internet to the black hole.

Mahmood said the Pakistani regulator was not responsible for "technical hitches" that may have lead to problems elsewhere. She said it was not clear how those occurred.

The authority, which aimed to restrict the site only in Pakistan, posted a complaint through the Web site but had not been in contact with the administrators of YouTube.

The outage highlighted yet another of the Internet's vulnerabilities, coming less than a month after broken fiber-optic cables in the Mediterranean took Egypt off line and caused communications problems from the Middle East to India.

Pakistani officials do not want a repeat of the violent anti-Western protests in early 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad regarded by many Muslims as offensive.

Danish editors reignited the controversy earlier this month by reprinting a cartoon that shows the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

On Tuesday, some 300 students rallied at a university in Multan, carrying banners denouncing Denmark, the United States and President Pervez Musharraf - the latest in a series of small protests held by Islamic students in Pakistan.

Umer Abbasi, a leader of the protest, urged all Muslim countries to follow Pakistan in blocking offensive material on the Internet.

"If you look deeply, America can be seen behind all anti-Muslim moves around the world," Abbasi told the crowd, which later burned Danish and American flags.

Authorities wanted to prevent Islamic hard-liners from seizing on the Wilders clips, said Abdullah Riar, Pakistan's minister for information technology and telecommunications.

"We are already in the spotlight on the issue of intolerance and extremism and terrorism," Riar said, "and this is something that somebody is doing by design to excite and insinuate Islamic sentiments."