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Pakistan blocks Facebook over 'Draw Mohammed Day'

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Pakistani students shout slogans during a protest in Lahore over "Everybody Draw Muhammed Day."
Pakistani students shout slogans during a protest in Lahore over "Everybody Draw Muhammed Day."
  • NEW: Facebook group's creator says idea meant to protest "bullying" by Muslim groups
  • "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" urges users to submit drawings of Mohammed
  • Devout Muslims consider it offensive to depict Mohammed
  • Telecommunications official says Facebook blocked on government's orders

(CNN) -- Pakistan is blocking access to Facebook in response to an online group calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed, officials said Wednesday.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority issued the order a day before "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," scheduled by a Facebook group with the same name, because of "the objectionable material" on the social networking site, said Khoram Ali Mehran of the telecommunication authority.

"We have blocked it for an indefinite amount of time. We are just following the government's instructions and the ruling of the Lahore High Court. If the government decides to unblock it then that's what we will do," he said.

The organization has not received any complaints from internet users about the blocking of Facebook so far, he said. Devout Muslims consider it offensive to depict Mohammed.

There were riots around the world in response to a series of cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2005, and at least two European cartoonists live under police protection after publication of their drawings of the Muslim prophet.

Mimi Sulpovar, who started the Facebook group, said she read about the idea on a blog after Comedy Central bleeped out part of an episode of "South Park" that mentioned the prophet.

"This is meant to be in protest," said Sulpovar, who is American. "This is something I have felt strongly about for a long time: Bullying by certain Muslim groups will not be tolerated in a free country."

Sulpovar said Pakistan's decision to block Facebook was ridiculous. Her group and a similar one had attracted about 7,000 fans between them Wednesday. Groups opposing the idea had about 68,000.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the idea behind the group was offensive.

"Islam discourages any visual representations of the prophets of God -- Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, anybody -- because we believe it can lead to a form of idol worship," Ibrahim Hooper said. "The majority of Muslims worldwide object to any representation of a prophet of God."

The idea of "Draw Mohammad Day" originated with a cartoonist who has since distanced herself from the idea, Sulpovar and Hooper said.

"The whole campaign has been taken up by Muslim-bashers and Islamophobes," Hooper said.

Sulpovar denied being anti-Muslim.

"This extends beyond being able to draw Mohammad," she said. "If it's offensive to you, that's fine, but I don't feel it's right to impose your belief on others through intimidation.

"This is nothing to do with hate or bigotry," she said. "Nobody is inciting violence or preaching open hatred towards individuals."

Sulpovar said she is not a Muslim but added that she had received "hundreds of e-mails from people trying to explain this to me."

One group member said she saw anger and fear on both sides of the controversy but felt that free speech could not be compromised.

"This is a hot-topic debate, but so is abortion, illegal immigrants, gay marriage and politics. If we allow even a small compromise for one group, then the free speech on topics like abortion, illegal immigrants and politics can also be censored based on accusations that they cause violence or hate," Autumn Meadows said on CNN's iReport.

"Hate speech is wanting a group eradicated, physically harmed or dead. I don't think drawing Mohammed falls under that category," she said.

"Islam is not above criticism or cartoons. I believe in equality, and censoring Mohammed while we can draw every other figure in the world does not equal equality," she said.

Facebook is investigating the block, said Debbie Frost, the company's director of global communications.

CNN's Reza Sayah contributed to this report.