(CNSNews.com) – The Facebook page at the center of angry protests in Pakistan because of depictions of Mohammed also has been blocked in Saudi Arabia, the latest development in a controversy first sparked almost five years ago by a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons satirizing Mohammed.
The decision by the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission does not affect general access to Facebook, according to reports from the kingdom Friday. Muslims consider any images of the prophet who founded Islam in the seventh century to be blasphemous.
Earlier, Pakistan’s government, amid public protests, barred complete access to the social networking site following an order by the high court in Lahore. The offending page, called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” invited users to submit cartoons of Mohammed on May 20.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) went on to block access to YouTube as well, citing “sacrilegious” content.
PTA director Khurram Mehran said the steps had been taken after it had tried the “regular channels,” asking administrators of the two Web sites to act against increasing amounts of “derogatory material.”
It was not clear how long the Facebook ban would be in place – the Lahore court order applies until the case comes up for a further hearing on May 31 – but a senior lawmaker, Talha Mahmood, called for the ban to be permanent, according to a report in Pakistan’s The Nation.
“Temporary blocking of Facebook is not a solution,” said Mahmood, who chairs the Senate’s standing committee on the interior. “It should be closed as anti-Islam elements have been hurting the sentiments of the Muslims in the past too.”
The “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” on Facebook was sporadically inaccessible outside of Pakistan over the past day, although a spokeswoman responded to queries overnight Thursday by saying the company “has not taken any action on this page.”
A YouTube spokesperson said the company was looking into the situation in Pakistan and was “working to ensure that the service is restored as soon as possible.”
This is not the first time Islamic states have blocked the video-sharing site over material it deems offensive to Muslims.
In 2008 Pakistan’s PTA ordered Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access indefinitely to YouTube, “for containing blasphemous web content/movies.”
The move then was linked both to the Mohammed cartoons and to the release by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders of a documentary film entitled Fitna, juxtaposing passages from the Koran with footage of terror attacks and jihadists extolling violence.
Indonesia in 2008 also instructed ISPs to block YouTube and several other Web sites over the Fitna movie.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Thursday his government has registered a protest at the U.N. Human Rights Council over the Facebook “blasphemy,” adding that such actions damage religious harmony.
Pakistan also raised the matter at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe.
“Negative stereotyping of the Muslims and defamation of Islam have become fashionable under the pretext of freedom of expression,” Malik Amad Khan, minister of state for foreign affairs, told the OIC gathering.
He cited Geert Wilders, a referendum in Switzerland banning the construction of minarets, and “appalling and outrageous” images of Mohammed, saying they had “gravely hurt the Muslim sentiments throughout the world.”
Coinciding with the latest controversy, the OIC meeting in Dushanbe released the third annual report by a body set up by the bloc to monitor “Islamophobia.”
In a foreword to the report by the OIC Observatory on Islamophobia, OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu wrote that the “distortion of Islam geared towards denigrating and dehumanizing Muslims insults the deep seated religious feelings and violates their fundamental rights and dignity thus threatening the multicultural fabric of the societies.”
The OIC has for the past decade promoted a campaign at the U.N. to combat what it calls “defamation” of religion – specifically Islam.
The most recent resolution passed last March by a smaller margin than before, prompting Ihsanoglu to urge the bloc’s 56 member states to close ranks on the issue.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Thursday called the Facebook issue “difficult and challenging.”
“We certainly fully understand how material that were posted on this particular page were offensive to Pakistanis and members of other Muslim majority communities around the world,” he said.
“But at the same time, we do in fact support the universal principle of freedom of expression, free flow of information, and we will continue to promote Internet freedom …” he added.