Network data confirm the restriction of online encyclopedia Wikipedia in Pakistan on multiple internet providers from Friday 3 February 2023. The incident comes days after authorities threatened to ban the popular resource over the presence of “sacrilegious” content. Access was largely restored by Monday after an intervention by the Prime Minister.
⚠️ Confirmed: Network data show that the #Wikipedia online encyclopedia and related projects have been restricted across #Pakistan. The measure follows takedown demands over alleged blasphemous content by the country's internet regulator PTA.
📰 Report: https://t.co/9Exgkc287e pic.twitter.com/Av3YTubhIZ
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 4, 2023
Real-time NetBlocks metrics indicate that all Wikipedia language editions, as well as the Wikipedia website, Wikimedia Commons and related projects have been restricted across most major internet providers in Pakistan from Friday morning, with aggregated reachability statistics collected from an initial set of 10 vantage points. This class of disruption can be worked around using VPN services, which are able to circumvent government internet censorship measures.
What’s happening in Pakistan?
Pakistan has frequently imposed temporary internet shutdowns during protests, however the use of filtering to pressure a major platform into compliance as in this case is relatively rare. The country does not typically issue public notices regarding filtering measures, although in this instance the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority noted on 1 February 2023 that Wikipedia was being throttled and would subsequently be filtered.
Details on which specific Wikipedia content or articles were objected to by Pakistan have not been made public. Pakistan has strict laws relating to blasphemy, as well as to criticism of the state.
Digital rights activist Usama Khilji told news agency AFP, “There’s just been a concerted effort to exert greater control over content on the internet,” adding his belief that “The main purpose is to silence any dissent. A lot of times blasphemy is weaponised for that purpose.”
Wikipedia is banned in China, while Turkey previously restricted Wikipedia for almost three years and the service was briefly unavailable in Venezuela in 2019 amid an edit war over the disputed presidency.
NetBlocks recommends against the use of internet filtering to regulate content due to its disproportionate impact on the public’s right to freely access and impart knowledge.
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Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations are enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.
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