Pakistan lifts Facebook ban but ‘blasphemous’ pages stay hidden

Official vows ‘nothing of this sort will happen in the future’ after row over contest for images of Muhammad.

Pakistan lifted a two-week-old ban on Facebook today but said it would continue to block individual pages containing “blasphemous” content.

Pakistan banned Facebook on 19 May in response to an online competition that invited people around the world to submit drawings of the prophet Muhammad. Muslims consider all depictions of Muhammad as heretical.

Yesterday Bangladesh also banned Facebook, saying it would lift the restriction only when the offending material was removed.

In recent weeks Pakistan extended the censorship to hundreds of other sites, including YouTube and Wikipedia. Most are now accessible again.

The censorship triggered criticism on Twitter and in the country’s English-language media, but no street protests. Internet users were initially able to circumvent the ban through proxy sites but were thwarted when the government blocked those too.

Najibullah Malik, the Pakistani official orchestrating the censorship, said Facebook had removed all “sacrilegious material” from its website and promised that “nothing of this sort will happen in the future”.

But by late afternoon a Facebook page entitled “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” was still online. One image depicted a bearded face with an explosive fuse trailing from his turban pasted on to a photo of a naked woman. The page was not accessible in Pakistan.

A Facebook spokewoman said the company had restricted access to the page in certain countries, including Pakistan, “out of respect for local rules” but had not removed it in others.

Facebook critics say some drawings on the Muhammad page are so offensive to Muslims that they constitute hate material. They point out that the site has previously censored sensitive material in Pakistan, including blocking a lawyer who tried to set up a satirical page entitled Taliban Times.

More on this news at Guardian.co.uk