Pakistan and Bangladesh have ordered a block on YouTube in their countries, in protest against Google’s reluctance to block a controversial movie trailer that mocks the Prophet Muhammad on the video-sharing site.
Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered the blocking of YouTube late Monday, after YouTube refused to block the video at the request of the government, the press secretary to the prime minister, Shafqat Jalil, said on phone yesterday.
Bangladesh also decided to block YouTube temporarily after its requests to Google to block the controversial trailer in the country did not get a response, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said. “Once the offensive video is removed or blocked, we will restore the YouTube site in our country,” he said.
One businessman complained on BTRC’s Facebook page that his business was affected by the block on YouTube, but other comments were generally supportive of the decision of the government.
Pakistani networks blocked YouTube in the country from late Monday after receiving the prime minister’s orders, a spokesman for the telecom regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said on Tuesday.
The orders by the Pakistani government follow an order by the country’s Supreme Court on Monday, ordering the PTA to block all links to the “offending material” on YouTube or any other website. The court did not however order the block of the entire YouTube site.
PTA said on Monday that it had blocked over 650 URLs on YouTube, besides links on other websites, indicating the proliferation of copycat videos and commentaries relating to the trailer on the Internet.
So far, Google has blocked the trailer in five countries: Egypt, Libya, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Although the company finds that the trailer is clearly within its guidelines and so will stay on YouTube, it has restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia.
The trailer was also blocked in Libya and Egypt given the very sensitive situations in these two countries, Google said last week. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed last week when a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed by gunmen.
The trailer has led to protests at U.S. embassies and consulates in various countries including Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Civil rights organisations such as Bytes for All, Pakistan are worried that the cutting off of communications channels, limiting access to information platforms, and other steps that curtail free expression could lead to a curb on the voices of individuals by politicians.
“Time and time again, we have witnessed in the past how censorship and filtering backed by religious reasons has eventually served political interests only,” the organisation said in a statement.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that the U.S. government did not have anything to do with the video, but that the U.S. does not and cannot stop individual citizens from expressing their views.
The video was filmed in the U.S. by a person, or people, whose identity has yet to be established, according to some reports.
Google responded to requests for comment on the block of YouTube by the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh with a brief statement. “We have received information from users that they cannot get access to YouTube in Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have checked our networks and there is nothing wrong on our side,” it said in a statement. A Google spokeswoman also noted that YouTube isn’t localised in Bangladesh.