Egyptian courts have banned YouTube for 30 days for hosting the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film, sparking claims of media censorship and the curtailing of freedom of expression.
The court ordered the temporary block of the video-sharing site in response to a case brought by a lawyer who objects to the film, with judge Hassouna Tawfiq stating that the film is “offensive to Islam and the Prophet (Muhammad)”.
Tawfiq ruled that “freedom of opinion [should] not attack the beliefs of others” in line with Egypt’s new constitution, which outlaws the insulting of “religious messengers and prophets”.
While it falls upon the government’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to enforce the ban, it is as yet unclear whether the ministry will take action given a number of bans in the past have been ignored, including a blanket ban on all websites containing pornographic content, although these failures are usually attributed to technical difficulties.
Amnesty International has released a damning response, calling the ban a “setback for freedom of expression”.
“This ruling is a clear assault of freedom of expression and has far-reaching consequences in the country where activists have relied heavily on YouTube to expose human rights abuses in the country,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Criticism of religions and beliefs are a vital part of freedom of expression – regardless of how offensive or intolerant the opinion might be,” she added.
“Innocence of Muslims” depicts the Prophet Muhammed as a murderer, womaniser and paedophile, causing widespread uproar following its release online last year. Protests ensued condemning the film in over 20 countries and more than 50 people were killed in the unrest. Egypt has also sentenced the film’s creator – who lives in the US – and six others involved in the making of the film to death.