POSTED: 7:23 a.m. HST, May 20, 2012
ISLAMABAD >> Pakistan blocked the social networking website Twitter on Sunday because it refused to remove tweets considered offensive to Islam, said one of the country's top telecommunications officials.
The tweets were promoting a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, said Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication's Authority. Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.
Yaseen said Facebook agreed to address Pakistan's concerns about the competition, but officials have failed to get Twitter to do the same.
"We have been negotiating with them until last night, but they did not agree to remove the stuff, so we had to block it," said Yaseen.
Instructions to block the site came from Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology, said Yaseen.
"The ministry officials are still trying to make them (Twitter) agree, and once they remove that stuff, the site will be unblocked," said Yaseen.
Officials from Twitter and Facebook were not immediately available for comment.
A top court in Pakistan ordered a ban on Facebook in 2010 amid anger over a similar competition. The ban was lifted about two weeks later, after Facebook blocked the particular page in Pakistan. The Pakistani government said at the time that it would continue to monitor other major websites for anti-Islamic links and content.
Many people based in Pakistan continued to use Twitter on Sunday despite the government's move to block the website by using programs that disguise the user's location. There was widespread criticism of the government's action by those on Twitter, who tend to be more liberal than average Pakistanis.
"Another cheap moral stunt by Pakistan," tweeted liberal Pakistani columnist Nadeem Paracha.
The 2010 Facebook controversy sparked many in Pakistan's liberal elite to question why Pakistanis could not be entrusted to decide for themselves whether or not to look at a website. Some observers noted that Pakistan had gone further than several other Muslim countries by banning Facebook, and said it showed the rise of conservative Islam in the country.
There were a handful of protests against Facebook back in 2010, often organized by student members of radical Islamic groups. Some of the protesters carried signs advocating holy war against the website for allowing the competition page to be posted in the first place.
Associated Press writer Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.