The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has restored Wikipedia services in the country after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the ban on the popular online encyclopedia be lifted “immediately” on Monday. The website was banned on February 3 over what the telecom regulator had labelled “sacrilegious content”.
The free, crowdsourced encyclopedia was blocked after the PTA’s 48-hour deadline to remove “unlawful” content had ended.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has directed that the Wikipedia website be restored with immediate effect,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted on Monday. “The Prime Minister has also constituted a Cabinet Committee on matters related to Wikipedia and other online content.”
Prime Minister @CMShehbaz has directed that the Wikipedia website be restored with immediate effect. The Prime Minister has also constituted a Cabinet Committee on matters related to Wikipedia and other online content. pic.twitter.com/fgMj5sqTun
— Marriyum Aurangzeb (@Marriyum_A) February 6, 2023
A notification from the Prime Minister’s Office stated that a committee, comprising the law, economic and political, and information ministers, was constituted by PM Shehbaz to look into the matter. In a meeting held on Monday, the committee discussed the importance of Wikipedia as a source of information, particularly for students and the academia. The committee opined that “blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable/sacrilegious matter on it”.
“The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits,” the PMO notification added.
A separate cabinet committee, headed by IT and Telecom Minister Syed Aminul Haque and comprising law, commerce, communications and information ministers, was also constituted to “review the suitability” of the PTA’s ban on Wikipedia. It would explore and recommend alternative technical measures for removal or blocking of “objectionable” content on Wikipedia and other online platforms as well.
Wikipedia was issued a 48-hour deadline by the PTA last week. The authority claimed that the platform had been given an “opportunity if hearing”, but it neither removed the reported content nor appeared before the PTA. The encyclopedia was blocked after the deadline ended, despite mounting condemnation from internet users and digital rights advocates.
On Monday, a joint statement signed by civil society, tech organisations and academic institutions from across Pakistan strongly condemned the ban on Wikipedia, terming it a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution.