US seeks balance between restriction, freedom of speech

A Pak court has ordered blocking access to Facebook.

Last Updated: May 21, 2010, 12:39 PM IST

Washington: The US on Thursday said there needs to be a balance in restricting offensive speech and continuing to protect and promote free flow of information, as a Pakistani court ordered blocking access to Facebook over the posting of blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.

A Pakistan court ordered to block access to the popular social networking site over a competition in one of its page called `Draw Mohammed Day,` inviting people to send in caricatures of the Prophet on May 20.

"Obviously, this is a difficult and challenging issue. Many of the images that appear today on Facebook were deeply offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We are deeply concerned about any deliberate attempt to offend Muslims or members of any other religious groups. We do not condone offensive speech that can incite violence or hatred," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said at his daily press briefing.

"The page at issue was posted anonymously at the website of a private company. It is now a legal matter between Facebook and the Government of Pakistan. But that said, we also believe that the best answer to offensive speech is dialogue and debate, and in fact, we see signs that that is exactly what is occurring in Pakistan. Governments have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression and the free flow of information," he argued.

The best antidote to intolerance is not banning or punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, and proactive government outreach to minority religious groups and vigorous defence of both freedom of religion and expression, Crowley argued.

The US respected any action that Pakistan takes under its law to protect their citizens from offensive speech, but it has to make sure that it did not restricted speech to millions of people who were connected to the internet and have a universal right to the free flow of information, Crowley said, as he sought to strike a balance on the sensitive issue.

Crowley said there are actions that Pakistan can take under Pakistani law and the US respects those.

"But there needs to be a balance to make sure that in rightly restricting offensive speech, or even hate speech, that Pakistan continues to protect and promote the free flow of information," he said.

Observing that Pakistan, as it works through these issues, has to try to find that difficult balance, Crowley said: "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."

But at the same time, the US do in fact support the universal principle of freedom of expression, free flow of information, and it will continue to promote internet freedom as the Secretary of State outlined in her speech recently, he said.

Earlier in the day, American cartoonist Molly Norris said that she never created a Facebook page for `Everybody Draw Mohammed Day` and has issued an apology to the Muslim community for this.