Pakistan has blocked access to Wikipedia for not removing what it denounced as blasphemous content, the host of the world’s largest free online encyclopedia said Saturday.
The Wikimedia Foundation demanded that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) immediately reverse the ban, and said, it "believes that access to knowledge is a human right."
The ban denies "the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository,” the platform said in a statement.
“We hope that the Pakistan government joins us 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."
A spokesperson for the PTA was quoted as confirming to local media it had blocked Wikipedia services in the country for not complying with directives for the removal of “unlawful” content from the platform.
“The decision can be reviewed once Wikipedia removes sacrilegious content that has been identified by the regulatory authority,” PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid told the English-language Dawn newspaper.
The state regulator Wednesday “degraded” Wikipedia services across Pakistan and linked its full restoration to “blocking/removal” of the reported content by late Friday, according to a Twitter post. The PTA did not elaborate.
The ban on Wikipedia drew criticism from Pakistani social media activists and users, demanding the government review the decision and denouncing it as “regressive” and “harmful” for the country’s global image.
The Wikimedia Foundation noted in its statement that the English version of Wikipedia in Pakistan "receives more than 50 million page views per month. There is also a sizable and engaged community of editors in Pakistan that contributes historical and educational content, it added.
The online platform defended its editorial policy, saying Wikipedia is written by nearly 300,000 volunteer editors around the world. They have designed “robust editorial guidelines that require strict citations and references to verified sources of information,” the statement said.
“We respect and support the editorial decisions made by the community of editors around the world.”
Pakistan has previously also imposed temporary bans on access to Facebook, YouTube and other social media outlets in the country for posting content deemed offensive to Islam.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation of about 220 million people and it carries the death penalty under Pakistani laws.
Human rights activists have long alleged successive governments in Pakistan use blasphemy laws to crackdown on free speech to silence dissents and intimidate political opponents as well as religious minorities.