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PM Directs Immediate Restoration Of Wikipedia

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif directs PTA to immediately restore Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, that was banned in Pakistan by the telecom regulator last week for not “blocking/removing sacrilegious content”.

The statement from the prime minister office held the view that entirely blocking the site was not a suitable measure for restricting access to some objectionable content. It said that ‘unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits”.

Wikipedia is a free, crowdsourced, editable online encyclopedia often used as a starting point by millions across the world for basic information.

the Ban

On February 4, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned Wikipedia for not “blocking/removing sacrilegious content” within the 48-hour deadline given in a move that was widely condemned.

Prior to the ban, the PTA had degraded Wikipedia services countrywide for not complying with its directives.

Parliamentary Committee

Following the uproar on the ban the PM had constituted parliamentary committee comprising of the law, economic affairs and information ministers for “preliminary examination of the matter”.

The PMO handout defined the cabinet committee’s terms of reference, saying that it would “review the suitability” of the PTA’s move to block Wikipedia. It added that the Ministry of Information and Technology would provide support to the cabinet committee.

It added that the committee held a meeting during which the members of the committee highlighted how Wikipedia was a useful website supporting the “dissemination of knowledge and information for the public, students and the academia”.

The committee would also explore and recommend alternative technical measures for the removal or blocking of objectionable content on Wikipedia and other online information sites “in view of our social, cultural and religious sensitivities”.

Committee Recommendations

Based on the body’s recommendations, PM Shehbaz ordered the immediate restoration of the website. He also constituted a separate cabinet committee headed by IT Minister Aminul Haque and comprising the law, information, commerce, and communication ministers.

The PMO statement said, “Blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable content. The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits.”

The statement said the committee would also give other recommendations with the objective of controlling unlawful online content in a “balanced manner”.

“The committee shall present its report with recommendations for consideration of the federal cabinet within a week’s time,” the handout said.

The Wikimedia Foundation stance

The Wikimedia Foundation, a charity that runs Wikipedia, had said last week, that it “does not make decisions around what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained”.

It had added that this is “by design to ensure that articles are the result of many people coming together to determine what information should be presented on the site, resulting in richer, more neutral articles”.

“We believe that access to knowledge is a human right. A block of Wikipedia in Pakistan denies the fifth 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.”

“We hope that the Pakistan government joins with the Wikimedia Foundation in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and restores access to Wikipedia.” Wikimedia projects promptly, so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.

Zahra Sikandar
Written By


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