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Twitter blocks 'blasphemous' tweets in Pakistan

The company has complied with requests from a Pakistani "bureaucrat" to hide specific content, says the New York Times.

One of several Twitter accounts now persona non grata in Pakistan. Twitter/screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

People in Pakistan can no longer see certain tweets after Twitter acquiesced to takedown requests from one official who damned them as "blasphemous" or "unethical."

Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority had asked the microblogging site to remove a series of tweets from view across his country, The New York Times reported on Thursday. The tweets in question offered crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photos of burning Qurans, and messages from anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star, according to the Times.

As detailed by the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a collaboration among law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the first request was dated May 5 and the most recent May 14. The five requests in total mark the first time that Twitter has agreed to take down content in Pakistan.

Twitter has maintained that blocking certain tweets in possible violation of local law is better than having its entire site taken down in specific countries, the Times said. The company has wrestled with the latter, most recently as Turkey banned the entire site over a few tweets.

But based on the source of the Pakistani takedown requests, Twitter's actions have triggered criticism on at least two fronts.

Pakistani advocacy group Bolo Bhi has questioned the right of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to request a block on Twitter content, arguring that such power is beyond its scope. The EFF echoed that criticism, saying that "it is even more alarming to see Twitter comply with Pakistani requests based on what Bolo Bhi describes as 'little in the way of due process.'"

Responding to a request for comment on the matter, a Twitter spokesperson pointed CNET to a page on the site's Help Center that explains the rules and policies for withholding content on a countrywide basis.