Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday ordered the immediate restoration of popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia that was banned by the telecom regulator last week for not “blocking/removing sacrilegious content”.
Wikipedia is a free, crowdsourced, editable online encyclopedia often used as a starting point by millions across the world for basic information.
On February 4, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned Wikipedia for not “blocking/removing sacrilegious content” within the 48-hour deadline given in a move that was widely condemned.
Prior to the ban, the PTA had degraded Wikipedia services countrywide for not complying with its directives.
A handout issued today by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that the matter was placed before the premier.
The statement said that the prime minister then constituted a committee comprising the law, economic affairs and information ministers for “preliminary examination of the matter”.
It added that the committee held a meeting during which the members of the committee highlighted how Wikipedia was a useful website supporting the “dissemination of knowledge and information for the public, students and the academia”.
“Blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable content,” the PMO statement said. “The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits.”
Based on the body’s recommendations, PM Shehbaz ordered the immediate restoration of the website and also constituted a separate cabinet committee headed by IT Minister Aminul Haque and comprising the law, information, commerce, and communication ministers.
The PMO handout defined the cabinet committee’s terms of reference, saying that it would “review the suitability” of the PTA’s move to block Wikipedia.
The committee would also explore and recommend alternative technical measures for the removal or blocking of objectionable content on Wikipedia and other online information sites “in view of our social, cultural and religious sensitivities”.
The statement said the committee would also give other recommendations with the objective of controlling unlawful online content in a “balanced manner”.
The PMO handout added the Ministry of Information and Technology would provide support to the cabinet committee.
“The committee shall present its report with recommendations for consideration of the federal cabinet within a week’s time,” the handout said.
‘Access to knowledge is a human right’
Last week, the Wikimedia Foundation, the charity that runs Wikipedia, had said it “does not make decisions around what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained”.
It had added that this is “by design to ensure that articles are the result of many people coming together to determine what information should be presented on the site, resulting in richer, more neutral articles”.
“We believe that access to knowledge is a human right. A block of Wikipedia in Pakistan denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository. If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s history and culture,” it had said.
It went on to say: “We hope that the Pakistan government joins with the Wikimedia Foundation in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and restores access to Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects promptly, so that the people of Pakistan can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.”