Facebook has blocked the page of a rock band in Pakistan at the request of the government, angering activists campaigning against censorship.
Rock band Laal formed in 2007 and is known for its politically themed music. Its Facebook page has more than 400,000 likes, with users frequently joining debates on issues ranging from feminism to the role of the country’s Army in politics. But it has been inaccessible to users from inside Pakistan since Wednesday. Other pages like “Taalibansarezalimans” (The Taliban are oppressors) and “Pakistani.meem,” which describes itself as pro-democracy and secularism, have similarly been blocked in recent days.
“Facebook didn’t even inform us, I realized when I noticed no activity on our page,” Taimur Rahman, the band’s lead guitarist said.
Facebook confirmed the move on Friday, saying the page had been blocked inside Pakistan at Islamabad’s request, under an agreement to limit access to material that violates local laws. A Facebook spokeswoman said: “While we never remove this type of content from the site entirely, like most Internet services, we may restrict people from accessing it in the countries where it is determined to be illegal. Before we restrict the content, we take significant steps to investigate each unique claim, consult with local counsel and other experts in the country, and will only remove content in the most limited way possible,” she added.
According to a page on Facebook that deals with government requests, 162 pieces of content were restricted for viewership inside Pakistan between July and December 2013. “We restricted access in Pakistan to a number of pieces of content primarily reported by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information Technology under local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state,” the page says.
Pakistan practices extensive Internet censorship, blocking YouTube in 2012 following the release of a low-budget film that was critical of Islam. Websites for Baloch separatist movements in the country’s southwest are also banned.
While attempts to access those sites result in a government message informing the user that the content has been blocked for viewership within Pakistan, clicking Laal’s page instead re-directs a user toward their own home feed.
The page remains accessible outside Pakistan.
Shahzad Ahmad, director of the Bytes For All organization that campaigns for free speech, said that Laal’s page was one of several secular and progressive pages to have been blocked by Facebook at Pakistan’s request. “This is a mass murder of free speech in Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan’s agreement with Facebook came to light last year when a senior official from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, an Internet regulatory body, was summoned by the Lahore High Court in a case concerning the YouTube ban, but its terms have not been made public.
But when called for comment on Friday, Khurram Ali Mehran, a spokesman for the regulatory body denied the existence of such an agreement, saying Facebook had acted alone. “We have no agreement with Facebook or whatsoever, it’s a pack of lies,” he said. “We have not closed the page of Laal, Facebook has its own terms of reference and it closes pages that seem indecent to them,” he added.
UPDATE, June 7: The page has been unblocked and is now accessible.