Google has been forced to take down a controversial anti-Islam YouTube video in a move which could pave the way for the site to finally be unblocked in Pakistan.
A US appeals court ordered the web giant to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” film which caused widespread rioting and scores of deaths and injuries across the Muslim world back in 2012.
It’s widely believed that Google’s uncompromising stance on the video, which many view as blasphemous, led to the Pakistani government banning YouTube within the nation's borders.
Ironically, the court order had nothing to do with its controversial depiction of Prophet Mohammed. Instead, it came after a lawsuit was brought by actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who argued that the film contained a dubbed clip she had actually made for another movie.
As a result of appearing in the film, Garcia had apparently received death threats.
Now that the offending video is being removed by Google, Pakistani rights groups are urging Islamabad to unblock YouTube.
Shahzad Ahmed from Bytes for All told AFP that there was now “no excuse” for the continued blocking.
“The ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government's desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition,” he added.
The Pakistani government has a track record of using religious and moral sensitivities in the country to de facto block and censor content online.
In February 2012 it blocked 13,000 porn sites and in October that year, in the wake of the Innocence of Muslims furore it took another 20,000 sites offline because they contained “objectionable content”.
In the Freedom on the Net 2013 report from rights group Freedom House Pakistan sits tenth from bottom with a status of “Not Free”.
The country recorded a “notable” decline from the previous year thanks in part to the increase in web site blocking.
The Freedom House report offered the following observations:
While internet penetration continued to improve in 2012 and early 2013, internet freedom in Pakistan looks increasingly precarious, a trend that could have significant consequences for the country's socioeconomic development.
Once YouTube is available again and Pakistan's residents can once again watch all the cat videos they want, socioeconomic progress will doubtless resume. ®