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May 23

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, May 23, 2010 8:40 AM 

From the May 20th press briefing at the State Department:

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Pakistan’s blockage of – Pakistan’s – to YouTube and other web – internet sites?

MR. CROWLEY: I do. 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.

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.

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 the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression. Those last words came from the Secretary’s internet freedom speech last year.

So I think that this is a difficult issue. Pakistan is wrestling to this issue. We respect any actions that need to be taken under Pakistani law to protect their citizens from offensive speech. At the same time, Pakistan has to make sure that in taking any particular action, that you’re not restricting speech to the millions and millions of people who are connected to the internet and have a universal right to the free flow of information.

QUESTION: But who’s to say that Pakistan isn’t simply playing to the more conservative religious factions in order to maintain political viability?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, as I said, we – there are actions that Pakistan can take under Pakistani law. We respect 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.

QUESTION: But blocking an – you know, this website or that website doesn’t seem to go toward promoting free flow of information. I mean, I have colleagues whom I cannot reach via Facebook right now because of this.

MR. CROWLEY: Right. And what we’re saying is that Pakistan, as it works through these issues, has to try to find that difficult balance. But 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, we do in fact support the universal principle of freedom of expression, free flow of information, and we will continue to promote internet freedom as the Secretary outlined in her speech.

Also on May 20, Apple removed an app called iSlam Muhhamadfrom the iPhone App Store. PCmag.com reports:

A description of the $.99 app encourages users to "enjoy violent and hateful passages from The Qur'an that support and encourage Muslims to attack and behead anyone who does not agree with them. See how Allah directs his followers to treat men and women."

...The app was in the store for a day before it was pulled.

Below is audio from the developer's conversation with Apple, which among other things, points out that a similar app targeting Christians called BibleThumper still exists in the store.

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