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After blocking Wikipedia over blasphemous continent, Pakistan lifts ban

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Pakistan's prime minister has ordered authorities to allow access to Wikipedia. The move comes days after the crowdsourced encyclopedia was blocked over accusations that it had published, quote, "sacrilegious content." NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Pakistan's telecommunication authority blocked Wikipedia last weekend after first deliberately slowing down access to the site for days.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: The authorities said it acted after Wikipedia ignored requests to take down sacrilegious content. One commentator compared the ban to closing libraries in response to finding one offensive book.

NIGHAT DAD: Basically, the ban is disproportionate.

HADID: Nighat Dad is a digital rights lawyer and free-speech advocate.

DAD: If there are offensive pages, the best way for users is not to go onto those pages because internet is full of such content.

HADID: But in Pakistan, lots of online content is banned, like porn, newspapers from enemy India, hookup sites like Tinder and Grindr. And over the years, major platforms have also briefly been blocked, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and, most recently...

USAMA KHILJI: TikTok. Well, TikTok was blocked around 3 to 4 times.

HADID: Usama Khilji is a digital rights activist. He says many of those blocks are often made in response to complaints by a minority of religious hardliners who use these bans to flex their political muscle. Sometimes, they threaten to take to the streets. Other times, they petition the courts, or their lawmakers publicly complain...

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: ...Which is what happened with the Pakistani film "Joyland" - a love story between a trans woman and a cisgender man.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: It was Pakistan's first-ever film to be shortlisted for an Oscar in the international feature film category, but it was banned at home. And just like Wikipedia, that ban was only lifted by the Pakistani prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, after a national outcry caught international attention. Khilji, the digital rights activist, says the restored access to Wikipedia in Pakistan is not quite a victory. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.