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Update at 6:48 p.m. PT: Twitter has been restored in Pakistan after being down for around eight hours. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that Twitter made no changes on its part to become restored and that the decision was purely on the government’s end. Original story below.

Social networking service Twitter has been blocked in Pakistan after the site refused to remove tweets concerning “blasphemous” Muhammad cartoons, according to Pakistan’s Express Tribune.

Twitter was targeted by the Pakistani government after some users organized a competition for people to draw the Prophet Mohammed, something that many Muslims consider blasphemous. Pakistan reportedly asked Twitter officials to stop tweets about the Prophet Muhammad, but “Twitter refused our request,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Mohammad Yaseen told the Express Tribune. Yaseen said that once Twitter removes the offending tweets, Twitter will be unblocked.

The Associated Press reports that Facebook complied with Pakistan’s requests about the competition. Facebook site was banned briefly in Pakistan about two years ago for refusing to remove a similar user-created contest. After two weeks, it eventually complied and removed the offending content.

A Pakistani government official claimed yesterday (on Twitter!) that Facebook and Twitter would not be blocked, saying, “Dear all, I assure u that Twitter and FB will continue in our country and it will not be blocked. Pl do not believe in rumors.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the move to block Twitter, saying it hindered users’ right to free speech.

“The government of Pakistan’s ban on Twitter is ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be,” Hasan said, in a statement. “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.”

Photo credit: Andreas Eldh/Flickr

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