Pakistan Blocks Wikipedia for Hurting Religious Sentiments (Updated)

Wikipedia is arguably the greatest source of information on the internet, since it acts as a compendium of crowd sourced knowledge that is well edited which makes it quite reliable from an academic point of view. Given its status as an objective resource of information, the online encyclopedia will certainly contain content that certain religious groups might find objectionable.

With all of that having been said and now out of the way, it is important to note that the government of Pakistan has threatened to ban Wikipedia if the online platform does not remove supposed “sacrilegious content” from its servers. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has already moved to “degrade” Wikipedia in the country for a period of 48 hours, and a permanent ban might ensue if the supposedly objectionable content is not removed.

While the Pakistani authorities have not yet defined what specific sacrilegious content it has objecting to, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that a ban could come into effect rather quickly. Pakistan has a long history of banning popular platforms out of a concern regarding the content that they are bringing to the table, and it is by no means alone in the region in that respect.

It's important to note that this temporary censorship caused a lot users to react on social media. People from civil society activists and researchers to education fields expressed their concerns on the band.

"Instead of blocking Wikipedia, simply block access to those specific pages or content.", commented one user.

On the other hand, India has recently made overtures to exert greater control over the information that its citizens can access online. The aggressive takedowns of the BBC documentary which analyzed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Singh Modi’s role in the Gujrat Riots of 2002 suggest a more active approach from the Indian government, and this is indicative of a wider trend in the South Asian region overall.

TikTok found itself banned in South Asia back in 2021, and YouTube was banned in Pakistan for a full three years after a blasphemous video of the Prophet Muhammad was uploaded and subsequently not taken down. This is showing a dangerous trend that might deprive the people of South Asia from free and unrestricted access to resources of information and community spaces on the internet.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Pakistan is not nearly as big of a market as India, so tech companies might be willing to pull out if it tries to exert too much control.

Update (4th Feb, 2023): As per Bloomberg, Wikipedia's block in Pakistan is now in full swing, as the objectionable content is still available on the platform. Seeing the situation Wikimedia Foundation urged the Pakistan's internet authority to restore its access in the country by tweeting that "We believe that access to knowledge is a human right. A block of @Wikipedia in Pakistan denies the 5th 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."

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