Pakistani Islamists shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on...

Pakistani Islamists shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on May 19, 2010, against the publishing of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

ISLAMABAD - It was a Facebook campaign meant to make a stand for free speech.

But in Pakistan, a contest encouraging users of the social networking site to submit caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has been viewed as blasphemous, prompting a court-ordered nationwide ban on the website yesterday.

A court in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, ordered the government to ensure that the country's Internet service providers were blocking access to Facebook, the world's most popular social networking website.

In Islamabad, the site was shut down as of early last evening.

The ruling was triggered by the campaign, which asked users to post images of Islam's founder on a page called "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!" The campaign was aimed at expressing solidarity with the creators of TV's "South Park," which recently drew the ire of a radical Muslim group for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit.

In April, New York-based Revolution Muslim warned "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on its website that "what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh," a Dutch filmmaker murdered after he produced a film about the abuse of women in some Islamic societies.

Facebook users were supposed to submit their images today. Yesterday, a group of lawyers asked the Lahore high court to shut down the site in Pakistan, arguing that the contest amounted to blasphemy.

An activist of a Pakistani Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami carries a...

An activist of a Pakistani Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami carries a placard during a protest rally in Karachi on May 19, 2010, against caricatures of Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

The court ordered Facebook blocked until May 31, when the panel would again take up the case.

Facebook has become immensely popular in Pakistan, which has a vibrant blogging community that sinks its teeth into a variety of topics, including politics and the arts as well as fashion trends.

- Los Angeles Times

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