ucanews.com reporters, PakistanUpdated: March 13, 2017 08:36 AM GMT
Pakistani IT professionals browse their newly created networking site in Lahore, in this file photo. Pakistanis have been outraged with Facebook over "blasphemous" posts. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)
Pakistanis logging on to Facebook or Twitter may soon find themselves looking at a dull government page telling them that the sites have been banned to protect Islamic sensitivities.
The government has warned all social media websites that if blasphemous content persists they will not hesitate to shut them down. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority will carry out the threat if the websites refuse to comply.
"We will go to any extent even permanently blocking all social media websites if social media operators refuse to cooperate with Pakistan," Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali said in a statement on March 9.
"No blasphemous material will be allowed to be propagated through social media that hurts the religious sentiments of the people of Pakistan. Blasphemy and terrorism are two major sensitivities and the state will not compromise on these issues," Ali said.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court, who is currently presiding over a case brought against several Facebook pages that horrified Muslims and a Catholic official, said he would summon Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif if authorities failed to comply.
The Federal Investigation Agency contacted the Facebook administration and sought records of the pages that have now been blocked. The hearing was adjourned until March 13.
Father Nasir William, director of the Commission for Social Communications in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, said that he had seen one such offensive Facebook page.
"I was really disturbed. This is an attack, personal grudge and a blatant misuse of freedom of expression. We condemn using social media for provoking any religious community and hurting their sentiments," he told ucanews.com.
However, he was not convinced that a blanket ban was the way forward.
"Social media is also a source of evangelization, educated Christians use it for sharing the good news. It cannot be stopped; people always find alternate platforms," Father William said.
In 2012, YouTube was blocked after the video-sharing site refused to remove a film called The Innocence of Muslims which was deemed insulting to Islam. The ban was finally lifted in January 2016.
Human rights groups have called for the repeal of blasphemy laws, saying they are used to target religious minorities.
Blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan and blasphemy against the Quran is punishable with life imprisonment.
On many occasions, mere accusations of blasphemy have led to mob attacks and murder.