U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube

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U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube  (2010) 
by Louise Fenner

U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube. IIP Digital. Louise Fenner. Staff writer. May 20, 2010. United States Department of State.

U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube

U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube

United States Department of State
IIP Digital

May 20, 2010

U.S. Concerned About Pakistan’s Ban of Facebook, YouTube

United States “deeply concerned” about attempts to offend Muslims, others

By Louise Fenner

Staff Writer

20 May 2010

Washington — The State Department says many of the images of the Prophet Muhammad added to the social networking website Facebook are “deeply offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” but that there needs to be a “balance” between Pakistan’s desire to protect its citizens from offensive speech and its responsibility to ensure freedom of information and expression.

Pakistan blocked access to Facebook May 19 and to the video site YouTube May 20 after one group of Facebook users asked people to draw and post images of the Prophet Muhammad on the site. Islam bans visual images of the prophet. A Pakistani court ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to command all Internet service providers in the country to block the sites because of what it called “growing sacrilegious content.”

During the State Department daily briefing May 20, spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is “deeply concerned about any deliberate attempt to offend Muslims or members of any other religious groups. We do not condone offensive speech that can incite violence or hatred.”

However, “we also believe that the best answer to offensive speech is dialogue and debate,” Crowley added. “And, in fact, we see signs that that is exactly what is occurring in Pakistan.”

“Governments have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression and the free flow of information,” he said. “We respect any actions that need to be taken under Pakistani law to protect their citizens from offensive speech. At the same time, Pakistan has to make sure that in taking any particular action that you’re not restricting speech to the millions and millions of people who are connected to the Internet and have a universal right to the free flow of information.”

Crowley referred to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s January speech in support of Internet freedom, in which she linked the freedom to use the Internet without government obstruction to basic human rights such as freedom of religion, speech and assembly.

But “free expression has its limits,” Clinton said. “We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the Internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the international community must confront together.” Ultimately, the United States supports an “Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” the secretary said.

Crowley, responding to questions about Pakistan’s shutdown of Facebook and YouTube, said, “The best antidote to intolerance is not banning or punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes and proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and a vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.” He said Pakistan has to try to find “that difficult balance.” It is clear that the materials posted on the Facebook page “were offensive to Pakistanis and members of other Muslim-majority communities around the world. But at the same time, we do in fact support the universal principle of freedom of expression, free flow of information. And we will continue to promote Internet freedom, as the secretary outlined in her speech,” he said.

Crowley noted that the Facebook page was “posted anonymously at the website of a private company. It is now a legal matter between Facebook and the government of Pakistan.” According to some news reports, Facebook said it may consider making content that is considered objectionable by Pakistan inaccessible to users in that country.

Two Facebook pages have already been posted in opposition to the one that asked people to draw Muhammad; the ones in opposition have a higher total number of “followers” (supporters).

In 2005, there was a wave of protests after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. At the time, the State Department said the cartoons were “offensive,” but it defended the freedom of expression of individuals and the media.

See Internet Freedom — Free Expression in the Digital Age.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).