Facebook said on Friday that it had blocked users in Pakistan from access to the pages of a popular Pakistani rock band and several left-wing political pages, drawing sharp criticism from free-speech activists who accused the American company of caving in to government censors.
Members of the band, Laal, whose members have frequently spoken out against the Taliban, confirmed that their Facebook page, which had over 400,000 “likes,” had been blocked.
Following an outcry on social media and inquiries by reporters to the Pakistani government and to Facebook, the government reversed itself and Facebook restored access to Laal’s page.
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But advocates said late on Friday that at least six other Facebook pages that promoted progressive debate in Pakistan and that had been blocked during the week remained inaccessible.
“Facebook claims to be in favour of free speech, and talks about protecting political expression, but they are not,” said Shahzad Ahmad of group Bytes for All Pakistan. “For the sake of their own profits and business, they are caving in to anything the government demands.”
A spokeswoman for Facebook in London said that it blocked the pages after receiving an official request from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which regulates Internet content in Pakistan.
The company says it regularly weeds out pages that promote hate or extremism. But activists said on Friday that the latest blocks in Pakistan affected pages that spoke out against extremism, while several extremist pages in the country were left untouched.
“This is ridiculous,” said Taimur Rahman, the lead singer of Laal. “None of our content could be construed as anti-state or anti-religious, in any shape or form.”