Pakistan lifts restrictions on YouTube

Pakistan's telecoms regulator lifted restrictions imposed on YouTube for anti-Islamic content but rejected blame for knocking out access to the video-sharing website in many countries over the weekend.

"We are not hackers. Why would we do that?" Shahzada Alam Malik, head of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, told Associated Press Television News. YouTube's wider problem were likely caused by a "malfunction" elsewhere, he said.

The authority told Internet service providers to restore access to the site on Tuesday afternoon after removing a video featuring a Dutch lawmaker who has said he plans to release a movie portraying Islam as fascist and prone to inciting violence against women and homosexuals.

Officials have described the clip as "very blasphemous" and warned that it could fan religious fanaticism and hatred of the West in Pakistan, where the government already faces a growing Islamic insurgency.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokeswoman Nabiha Mahmood said attempts to access the offending clip on Tuesday afternoon brought up only a message explaining that it had been removed on ethical grounds.

She said the telecoms regulator had posted a complaint through the website — a facility open to any registered user — but had not been in contact with the administrators of YouTube.com, which is owned by Internet giant Google.

The authority aimed to restrict the site only in Pakistan.

But the move inadvertently cut access for most of the world's Internet users for up to two hours on Sunday, highlighting the vulnerability of the Internet.

YouTube said on Monday that the cut was caused by a network in Pakistan.

"We are investigating and working with others in the Internet community to prevent this from happening again," it said in an e-mailed statement.

Todd Underwood, a senior manager at Renesys Corp, a U.S. company that tracks the pathways of the Internet, said a Pakistani telecommunications company complied with the block by directing requests for YouTube videos to a "black hole."

The problem was that the company accidentally identified itself to Internet computers as the world's fastest route to YouTube, leading requests from across the Internet to same dead end, Underwood said.

Malik suggested that was probably down to a mistake or a technical defect.

"This I would say could be an accident, or could be some technical defect or malfunction," he said. "We never wanted to do that and I don't think our technical people have done it."

Pakistani officials are keen to prevent a repeat of the violent anti-Western protests in early 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad regarded by many Muslims as offensive.

The upper house of Parliament on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning the reprinting of the cartoons this month in Danish newspapers.

It said tension was brewing in the Netherlands over a "sacrilegious film against Islam" — an apparent reference to the plans of the Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders.

"All these efforts seems to be part of a campaign aimed at denigrating Islam, insulting Islamic role models and injuring the feelings of the Muslims the world over. These outrageous attacks may also be a part of a game plan to provoke some persons into violent reaction," the resolution said.

On Tuesday, some 300 students rallied at a university in the central city of Multan, carrying banners denouncing Denmark, the United States and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf — the latest in a series of small protests held by Islamic students in Pakistan.

Umer Abbasi, a leader of the demonstrators, urged other Muslim countries to follow Pakistan in blocking offensive material on the Internet.

"If you look deeply, America can be seen behind all anti-Muslim moves around the world," Abbasi told the crowd, who later burned Danish and American flags.

While a raft of other videos featuring Wilders would remain visible to Pakistani Internet surfers, Mahmood said the one which was removed had been "totally anti-Quranic ... very blasphemous."

She said it promoted Wilders' upcoming movie, but provided no detail of its content.

Abdullah Riar, Pakistan's minister for information technology and telecommunications, said authorities worried that Islamic hard-liners would seize on the clip.

He said the cause of protecting free speech in Pakistan was better served by preventing confrontation between Muslims and the West than allowing the clip to be shown, despite the publicity generated by the temporary ban.

"We are already in the spotlight on the issue of intolerance and extremism and terrorism and this is something that somebody is doing by design to excite and insinuate Islamic sentiments," Riar said.

He said the knock-on effects were "very unfortunate. We have nothing against the YouTube site itself."

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