Lahore: A Pakistani court on Monday ordered authorities to restore access to Facebook, nearly two weeks after the popular social networking website was blocked nationwide in a row over blasphemy.
Justice Ejaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court issued the directive, reversing a May 19 order on the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block Facebook over "blasphemous" drawings of Prophet Mohammed on the website.
"Restore Facebook. We don`t want to block access to information," Chaudhry told the court.
A contest organised by a Facebook user calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed to promote "freedom of expression" sparked a major blacklash in the conservative Muslim country of 170 million.
Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and even moderate Muslims were deeply offended by the drawings that appeared on a Facebook page in an answer to the call for an "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day".
A group of Islamic lawyers petitioned the Lahore court, which had ordered Facebook blocked until May 31 and the PTA then banned YouTube and restricted access to other websites, including Wikipedia.
Chaudhry on Monday asked the government to develop a system to block access to "blasphemous" content on the Internet, which he said was already in place in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
"It is the government`s job to take care of such things, which spark resentment among the people and bring them onto the streets. They should take steps to block any blasphemous content on the Internet," Chaudhry said.
The court Monday adjourned until June 15 the petitions from the Islamic lawyers.
Mudassir Hussain, an official from the information technology ministry, told the court that all links to to "blasphemous" content on the Internet would remain blocked in Pakistan.
Pakistan last week restored access to YouTube -- which together with Facebook accounts for up to 25 percent of Internet traffic in Pakistan -- but 1,200 web pages of "sacrilegious" content were blocked as of Thursday.
Islamic activists and students took to the streets, shouting "Death to Facebook" and burned US flags, venting anger over "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day".
But although the caricatures were universally condemned in Pakistan, the Internet-literate urban elite criticised the blanket ban on websites.
There are an estimated 2.5 million Facebook users in Pakistan and demonstrations over the controversy did not spread to other Muslim countries.
Pakistan also briefly banned YouTube in February 2008 in a similar protest against "blasphemous" cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.