Pakistan blocks social media access, restricts news coverage of anti-blasphemy protests

Click to play video: 'Clashes in Islamabad as police try to break up Islamist protest' Clashes in Islamabad as police try to break up Islamist protest
WATCH: Clashes in Islamabad as police try to break up Islamist protest – Nov 25, 2017

The Pakistani government has blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and ordered private news channels off the air, as Islamist protests that began in the capital Islamabad began to spill into other parts of the country.

On Saturday, police and paramilitary troops were called in to remove some 1,000 protesters from the hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party who had staged a sit-in on a major road leading into Islamabad since Nov. 8. At least one person was killed and hundreds injured.

Supporters of the ultra-religious movement accused Pakistan’s law minister of blasphemy, after he omitted a reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a parliamentary bill.

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Soon after the police crackdown, protests began to break out in other cities including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

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Twitter’s public policy division tweeted it was aware users were having difficulties accessing the website from Pakistan.

Facebook, YouTube, DailyMotion and Instagram were also reported down in parts of the country, as the government mulled blocking cellphone signals, according to Dawn.

Earlier Saturday, Pakistani authorities announced a ban on all live TV news coverage of the operation to remove the protesters.

“All the satellite TV channel licensees are directed to exhibit utmost sensitivity on the matter… and refrain from live coverage of the ongoing operation at Faiz-e-abad, Islamabad,” read a notice from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority.

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The minister at the heart of the controversy, Zahid Hamid, apologized for the omission — a phrase saying that Muhammad is the last prophet in Islam — saying it was a clerical error that was later corrected.

But protesters insisted that Hamid resign, with a group of men pelting his residence with stones before being arrested, Dawn reported. Neither Hamid nor his family were present in the building.

— With a file from The Associated Press


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