Muslim anger prompts Pakistan to block Facebook

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s government ordered Internet service providers to block Facebook yesterday amid anger over a page that encourages users to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

The page on the social networking site has generated criticism in Pakistan and elsewhere because Islam prohibits any images of the prophet. The government took action after a group of Islamic lawyers won a court order yesterday requiring officials to block Facebook until May 31.  By yesterday evening, access to the site was sporadic, apparently because Internet providers were implementing the order.

The Facebook page at the center of the dispute — “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” — encourages users to post images of the prophet on May 20 to protest threats made by a radical Muslim group against the creators of “South Park” for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit during an episode earlier this year.   In the southern city of Karachi, about 2,000 female students rallied demanding that Facebook be banned for tolerating the page. Several dozen male students held a rally nearby, with some holding signs urging Islamic holy war against those who blaspheme the prophet.

“We are not trying to slander the average Muslim,” said the information section of the Facebook page, which was still accessible yesterday morning. “We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them. That they can’t take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us into silence.”  A series of cartoons of the prophet published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 sparked violent protests by Muslims around the world, including Pakistan, and death threats against the cartoonists.  Facebook said yesterday that it was investigating.

“While the content does not violate our terms, we do understand it may not be legal in some countries,” the company said in a statement. “In cases like this, the approach is sometimes to restrict certain content from being shown in specific countries.”  It remains to be seen how successful the move will be at keeping people in Pakistan from accessing the site.

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