The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has blocked Wikipedia after slowing access to the website for 48 hours over content it considers "sacrilegious." A PTA spokesperson told Bloomberg that the agency has blocked the online encyclopedia for failing to remove said content within the past couple of days.
The telecom authority revealed on February 1st that it approached the website with a court order to remove "blasphemous" material from its website. After Wikipedia didn't comply or appear before authorities, the PTA degraded access to the website for a couple of days and threatened to block it entirely if it didn't comply with its demands. The agency didn't publicly list the Wikipedia entries it doesn't want people in Pakistan to see.
Wikipedia was approached for blocking/removal of the said contents by issuing a notice under applicable law & court order(s). An opportunity of hearing was also provided, however, the platform neither complied by removing the blasphemous content nor appeared before the Authority. pic.twitter.com/6dWRcbxHGB
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) February 1, 2023
As TechCrunch notes, Pakistan has been trying to exert more control over content found on various digital platforms. In 2020, the PTA temporarily banned TikTok due to "immoral and indecent" material before the short-form video app promised to moderate clips according to Pakistani "societal norms" and laws. It's worth noting that the Muslim-majority country has stringent blasphemy laws, and the punishment for breaking them includes life imprisonment and even death.
In a blog post, the Wikimedia Foundation confirmed that Pakistan blocked Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects based on its internal traffic reports. "In Pakistan, English Wikipedia receives more than 50 million pageviews per month, followed by Urdu and Russian Wikipedias. There is also a sizable and engaged community of editors in Pakistan that contribute historical and educational content. 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 knowledge, history, and culture," the Foundation wrote. It's now calling on Pakistan's authorities to restore access to the Wikipedia website in the country.
PTA's spokesperson told Bloomberg that the agency is still in talks with Wikipedia officials and that the agency will consider unblocking the website if it completely removes sacrilegious content.