More countries push to block YouTube over anti-Islam video

Protestpakistan

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

As protests over an online video mocking the Islamic prophet continue to simmer in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere, more countries are trying to keep it from being seen around the world.

Google has already stopped the film trailer from being viewed on YouTube in Egypt and Libya “given the very difficult situation” and has restricted it in Indonesia and India over concerns that it violates local laws. Malaysian news media reported that the video was also inaccessible there late Monday after  government officials lodged similar complaints with the company about the amateurish video.

However, the company has turned down requests to pull down the video entirely so as to stop it from being viewed anywhere, saying it was “clearly within our guidelines” and widely available online.

That has failed to appease some of those disgusted by the “Innocence of Muslims” trailer, even in countries where the video has been blocked. In Egypt, attorney Mohamed Hamed Salem filed a lawsuit aimed at completely blocking the website, the Al Ahram state newspaper reported Tuesday.

"Not only has YouTube insisted on showing the original movie, but now there are at least 50 different videos showing various clips of the film," Salem told Al Ahram. "We need to block YouTube in Egypt because this would be a robust response, and we need a robust response so that what happened is not repeated again."

In countries where YouTube has yet to block the video, some governments are doing it for them by shutting down YouTube entirely.The Pakistani prime minister ordered Monday that the website be blocked until the “blasphemous material” was removed, local media reported. Bangladesh is doing the same; a YouTube representative said it has gotten reports from users in both countries that they can't reach the site.

Russian communications chief Nikolai Nikiforov warned Monday on Twitter that the country also could take that step. A controversial new law that goes into effect in November allows authorities to block entire sites over offensive content on a single page.

The Russian prosecutor general has already declared the film to be extremist and is seeking a court ruling to ban it in Russia, a spokeswoman told RIA Novosti on Monday. The office has instructed the federal communications agency to take measures to stop the film from being distributed, she said.

[Updated 5:04 p.m. Sept. 18: Saudi Arabia has also asked Google to “veil all YouTube links containing the film,” saying that if not, its communications commission would block the entire website, the Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday afternoon. The website was later reported to be inaccessible in the country.]

Although foreign news media have mused on why YouTube would have restricted the video in some countries and not others, YouTube says it is not simply choosing, but requires a valid court order or official government notification to remove illegal content and "this only covers countries that we are localized in."

Arguments around the world over restricting the online video have underscored the vast differences over where countries draw the line on free speech and offending religious faith.

The idea that highly offensive hate speech might be protected in the United States has strained believability for some protesters abroad, who see the continued online availability of the video for the film made in Southern California as a sign of American approval. YouTube has also come under fire for leaving the video on its site, as government officials and clerics elsewhere argue that free speech doesn't cover religious insults.

"YouTube appears to be oblivious to the tumult it has caused. The owner of YouTube does not deserve to be spared the ire of Muslims or the long arm of the law," Malaysian Communications Minister Rais Yatim was quoted by the Malaysian national news agency, calling the company "insensitive."

YouTube has had to juggle those vastly different legal and cultural norms as it faces demands for censorship, an especially difficult task for a website that says 72 hours of video are uploaded there every minute.

"We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions,” the company said in a statement last week after violent protests first erupted. “This can be a challenge because what's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.”

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A supporter of Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam shouts slogans during a protest in Chaman, Pakistan, on Tuesday against an anti-Islam film made in the United States. Credit: Akhter Gulfam / European Pressphoto Agency

 
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