iVPN Reports YouTube Unblocked in Pakistan

It was reported to us just today by iVPN that YouTube has been unblocked in Pakistan. Students and bloggers are enjoying their victory after fighting for over a year to get the streaming service back.

Early this month, reports began to come in that YouTube was working in some areas of Pakistan. Other internet connections still could not access the website at that time, but now it looks like YouTube is available all across the country. The irregularity of access was explained by the gradual removal of the blocks.

The Rumored Unblocking Becomes a Reality

In September, rumors had already begun to surface about a possible decision by the Pakistan government to unblock the streaming service. Incidents of users being able to access YouTube raised hopes that unblocking tests were underway in preparation for a total and permanent unblocking of the service. The rumors also stated that the government had acquired technology that would allow it to unblock Youtube while still blocking the specific videos that had caused them to block the site in September of 2012. The government will then apparently still be blocking certain content that it considers to be harmful and insulting to the Muslim faith. It is yet unconfirmed whether the said anti-Islam videos are available on Youtube when accessed from Pakistan. A new Youtube content filter in place would allow users to access Youtube without being able to view content that the government has banned.

The selective blocking of YouTube is preferred by most countries as it is the method that is considered fair to all parties. 56 countries in total currently have localized versions of YouTube that allow them to tailor the content to local standards. The only countries that now block YouTube completely are Tajikistan, China and Iran.


The Struggle Over YouTube Availability

YouTube was blocked in Pakistan over a year ago when the streaming service refused to remove the controversial trailer for the unreleased American-made film entitled “The Innocence of Muslims”. Google said that it would not remove the video because it did not violate their content standards. The video had caused an uproar with US diplomatic missions being targeted and clashes between protesters and police leaving 19 dead. The Pakistani government had determined that this and some other of the site’s content was offensive and blasphemous. The decision to block YouTube came shortly after.

This decision to block YouTube completely had some heavy, unintentional consequences, however. Many companies, educators and students had relied on YouTube for sharing video content. The blocking of the site put a huge dent in their systems and much had to be done on short notice to remedy the situation. A petition to end Internet censorship in Pakistan was heard in court last month. The debate over how to maintain the right to a free flow of information while considering public sentiment over the special protections needed for the Islamic faith were central to the decision to unblock YouTube.

Religious protests often end in bloodshed in the democratic Pakistan, and the blocking of YouTube was done as a calming measure to end the violence in 2012 over the film. An advocacy group called Bytes for All is petitioning the Lahore High Court to order an end to all Internet censorship. The outcome is uncertain until a balance can be found between Internet freedoms and religious concerns. Many in the group fear that government sponsored content blocks could lead to dictatorial controls and heightened moral policing in the country. The government has a history of periodically banning sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and the YouTube ban lasted the longest. Most internet users in Pakistan used VPN services like iVPN to uinblock sites, but the principle forces the issue of true democratic freedoms.

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