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Pakistan Blocked Twitter Access on Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

May 20 was the third annual Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, the event in which artists depict the Prophet Mohammed in cartoon form to protest censorship and extremist threats (The event was created by cartoonist Molly Norris in 2010 in response to the death threats received by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone for attempting to feature the figure in their Comedy Central series). If you live in Pakistan, however, you wouldn’t have seen any mention of this on Twitter yesterday, because government regulators shut down access to the site for hours to keep a lid on things, just in case.Norris went into hiding on advise from the F.B.I. in 2010, going so far as to change her name and relocate after receiving death threats for illustrating a cartoon that depicted Mohammed as common household objects. Cartoonists worldwide have continued participating, however, as an expression of free speech. Visual depictions of Mohammed are historically uncommon in Islam, and remain so as both a matter of reverence and a measure against idolatry.

The Twitter lock-out, which lasted around eight hours, came as a surprise to many Pakistani government officials, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who denied any such block before realizing that there was, indeed, one in place. The site was finally made available again after the country’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza, personally ordered the Ministry of Information Technology to restore access, according to Malik.

Quite who ordered the site to be blocked remains a mystery; the government hasn’t officially accepted responsibility, but Mohammad Yaseen, the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority told reporters that “this is not a simple decision, it is a high-level decision.” Interestingly, Facebook had already agreed to prevent its official Draw Mohammed page from being accessed inside the country and it’s believed that this decision let to the Ministry of Information Technology requesting the same voluntary regional block from Twitter; when the company didn’t respond to the request, the site was blocked by the Ministry itself.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, reported yesterday that she would look into the matter… ironically, doing so via Tweet.

[Via The Washington Post]

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