LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani court ordered the government Wednesday to block the popular social networking website Facebook temporarily because of a controversial page that encourages users to submit images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, a senior legal official said.
The page has generated criticism in Pakistan and elsewhere because many Muslims consider images of the prophet, even favorable ones, to be blasphemous. A series of cartoons of the prophet published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 sparked violent protests and death threats against the cartoonists.
The Facebook page "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" encourages users to submit images of the prophet on May 20 to protest threats made by a radical Muslim group against the creators of "South Park" for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit during an episode earlier this year.
"We are not trying to slander the average Muslim," the Facebook creators wrote on the information section of the page, which was still accessible Wednesday morning. "We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammad depictions that we're not afraid of them. That they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us into silence."
In an attempt to respond to domestic criticism, the Pakistani government ordered Internet service providers in the country to block the page Tuesday, said Khurram Ali, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which regulates the telecommunications network in the country.
But a group of Islamic lawyers asked the Lahore High Court on Wednesday to order the government to fully block Facebook because the site had allowed the page to be posted in the first place, said the deputy attorney general of Punjab province, Naveed Inayat Malik.
The court complied with the request by the Islamic Lawyers Forum and ordered the government to temporarily block the site until May 31, Malik said. Lawyers outside the courtroom hailed the ruling, chanting "down with Facebook."
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the controversial Facebook page had been blocked, but the site itself was still functioning.
Ali, the Pakistani telecommunications official, said he was awaiting final instructions from the government before ordering Internet service providers to fully block Facebook.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report from Islamabad.