Facebook block over Mohammed caricature competition
FACEBOOK was sucked into a growing row over Islam and freedom of speech yesterday after a Pakistani court ordered the site to be blocked over a page advertising a contest to draw cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Creators of the "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day" page, which invites users to send in caricatures, said that it was a response to Muslim bloggers who threatened people involved with the television show 'South Park' for depicting the Prophet in a bear suit.
The competition has infuriated many Muslims, especially in Pakistan, reigniting a debate sparked by cartoons of the Prophet published in Danish newspapers in 2005.
Several Islamist political parties have organised protests across Pakistan over the past two days, while the Islamic Lawyers Forum filed a petition against Facebook with the Lahore High Court. The court, describing the drawing contest as a "blasphemous competition", responded by ordering the government to block the site until May 31 after which it said that it would consider taking further action.
"The court has ordered the government immediately to block Facebook until May 31 because of this blasphemous competition," said Azhar Siddique, a representative of the forum. "The court has also ordered the foreign ministry to investigate why such a competition is being held."
About 20 people demonstrated outside the court with banners denouncing Facebook.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the industry watchdog, said it had not received the court orders, but had ordered internet service providers to block websites showing these caricatures.
Facebook was available in Pakistan early yesterday, but could only be accessed by late afternoon on mobile communication devices.
Muslims, who make up about 97pc of Pakistan's 166 million people, consider any representation of the Prophet to be blasphemous.
The publications of the Danish cartoons in 2005 stirred violent protests across the Muslim world, which claimed about 50 lives, including five in Pakistan.
Al-Qa'ida claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad in which six people died in 2008, describing it as revenge for the cartoons.
Pakistan also blocked the video-sharing site YouTube in 2007 for about a year because it allegedly carried un-Islamic clips. Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi "strongly condemned" the caricature competition.
A Facebook spokeswoman said: "The matter has come to our attention and we're looking into it." Creators of the offending page described it as a "snarky" response to Islamic extremists who had threatened the 'South Park' creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. (© The Times, London)