Twitter unblocks anti-Islamic tweets and accounts in Pakistan

One banned account was dedicated to anti-Muslim posts

Twitter has restored access to dozens of accounts and tweets that were blocked in Pakistan, after the country’s telecoms authority complained about messages that were anti-Islamic.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued five requests for bans in May regarding messages that it said were “blasphemous” and “unethical”.

Complaints related to: accounts dedicated to posting anti-Muslim tweets; posts showing the Koran being burned; a user urging Muslims to become atheists; the accounts of two North American porn actresses; and images of the Prophet Mohamed - whom some Muslims believe should not be depicted so as not to encourage idolatry.

While some of the accounts have been suspended across the whole of Twitter, the majority of the material remains online because the PTA did not follow up its complaint and present further documentation to the social media website.

The decision was made public via the website Chilling Effects, which logs cease-and-desist requests sent to online companies.

Twitter told the site: “On May 18, 2014, we made an initial decision to withhold content in Pakistan based on information provided to us by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.“

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“Consistent with our longstanding policies we provided notice to all of the affected account holders and published the actioned takedown requests on Chilling Effects to maximise transparency regarding our decision.

"We have re-examined the requests and, in the absence of additional clarifying information from Pakistani authorities, have determined that restoration of the previously withheld content is warranted."

The social media website argued that withholding a handful of tweets was better than having the service stopped completely in a country - an action the Pakistani government took before Twitter blocked the offending messages.

This instance was the first time Twitter had granted a block in Pakistan.

Twitter was criticised by free speech organisations, including Reporters Without Borders, when it launched its 'Country Withheld' tool in 2012, BBC News reported.

Pakistani advocacy group Bolo Bhi said in a statement on Wednesday that while it believes Twitter's Country Withheld tool is “seeking to facilitate” government requests, it is “worrisome for citizens in countries where no transparent and legal processes exist for access and content on the Internet.”

“Over the last few years, various authorities have arbitrarily blocked and censored the Internet, not over ‘illegal’ content, but to suppress political dissent. The process by which requests from governments are entertained by Twitter must also be made public knowledge. What is considered a valid complaint, through what process and policy?” it asked.

It added: “Government authorities have routinely cited Facebook’s speedy compliance with take down requests as a justification to continue the ban on YouTube, and it appears as though Twitter is joining that league requiring little in way of due process to comply with requests.”

Other restrictions that are imposed on a country-by-country basis include: neo-Nazi accounts in Germany; a series of homophobic tweets in France; and censorship in India of claims that a soft drinks company sold polluted soft drinks.

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