Exclusive: Facebook shut-down likely in Pakistan

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Mark Zuckerberg can breathe a little easier: the blasphemy case in Pakistan which has been hanging over his head since last summer appears to have quietly been dropped.

Meaning, he's no longer under threat of the death penalty. Unfortunately, though, a Pakistani court has essentially ordered the government to police Facebook for 'objectionable' content, meaning there's a high chance the site will be shut down in the country.

The case started last summer, after an 'Everybody draw Mohammed!' competition was launched on Facebook by a young American woman.

Access to the site was temporarily blocked, but in the absence of appropriate legislation the High Court ordered it to be reopened. At the same time, though, it ordered the Deputy Attorney General to take some sort of legal action - which he did by prosecuting Zuckerberg under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

"Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine," reads the Code.

At the same time, though, a case was launched to force the government to prevent access to 'objectionable' content in the country - and this has finally been approved.

"[The] Interministerial Committee constituted by the then Prime Minister in the year 2006 would keep a vigilant eye on the websites and in the eventuality of any objectionable material concerning the religious faith of any group would take prompt action before it reaches to the public-at-large," reads the judgement.

"The Crisis Cell working in the Services Division ICT Directorate and Enforcement Division shall be used as a tool to unearth such material and to block the relevant website/URL forthwith."

And with today, one year on from the original events, marked as another Draw Mohammed Day, there's a high chance that somebody will be offended.

In any case, another very similar petition has been launched seeking a permanent ban on the site; there's a hearing on it next week.