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Pakistan blocks Twitter over 'blasphemous content' -- but fails to stop tweets

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistanis found workarounds and took to Twitter Sunday to rail against the government's decision to block access to the website.

The move followed tweets promoting a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, said Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication's Authority (PTA). Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.

Ali Abbas Zaidi, a social activist and founder of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, tweeted: "#TwitterBanPakistan - What's next? Banning pens, papers and 'ideas'?"

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker, added: "We like being the butt of the world's jokes: #Pakistan #TwitterBan."

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One journalist called out Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, for continuing to tweet, despite the ban.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan's English-language Dawn newspaper, tweeted: "@sherryrehman madam ambassador your govt has just banned twitter. you may be violating some law by tweeting, me thinks."

Yaseen told Reuters the ban was "because of blasphemous content." He said Sunday afternoon that Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology had ordered the telecommunications authority to block Twitter because the company refused to remove the offending tweets. In contrast, Facebook had agreed to address Pakistan's concerns about the competition, he said.

The government restored access to Twitter before midnight Sunday, about eight hours after it initially blocked access.

Twitter spokesman Gabriel Stricker said the company had not taken down any tweets or made any other changes before Pakistan stopped blocking the site.

Mohammad Sajjad / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Officials from Facebook were not immediately available for comment. 

'Crotch monkey'
This is not the first time the PTA has blocked access to social networking sites in Pakistan for activities it deemed inappropriate.

For nearly two weeks in 2010, access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites was blocked, also over content deemed blasphemous by Pakistan's government.

In November 2011, the PTA came under fire for circulating a list of more than 1,500 words and phrases to mobile phone operators with an order to implement a system banning those words from text messages.

The effort, later abandoned by the agency, was ridiculed for the range of words included on the list -- everything from "flatulence" to "Budweiser" as well as a number of possible word permutations including obscene or suggestive language, like "crotch monkey" and "get it on."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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