ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s media regulator said Monday it has blocked Wikipedia services in the country for hurting Muslim sentiment by failing to remove allegedly blasphemous content from the site. Critics denounced Islamabad’s action, saying it was a blow to digital rights.

Under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, anyone convicted of insulting Islam or its figures can be sentenced to death, although the country has yet to apply the death penalty for blasphemy.

But even reports of the crime are often enough to spark mob violence and even deadly attacks. International and domestic rights groups say blasphemy charges have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority says it blocked Wikipedia because a 48-hour deadline to remove content was ignored, according to a spokesperson. «Such things hurt the feelings of Muslims,» ​​said Malahat Obaid of the regulator.

She said Pakistani authorities are in talks with Wikipedia officials and the ban could be lifted if the platform removes anti-Islam content entirely.

The Wikimedia Foundation confirmed the ban on Saturday, saying: «We hope the Pakistani government will join us in a commitment to knowledge as a human right and restore access to @Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects promptly, so that the Pakistani people can continue to receive and share knowledge with the world.”

Mohsin Raza Khan, a Pakistani social media expert, said it is easy to update or replace material on Wikipedia deemed sacrilegious or offensive to Muslims, so blocking the site is not the answer.

«Pakistan’s media regulator and other authorities should try to find some viable technical solution to problems like blasphemous content available everywhere,» he said. «It is equal to a drop in the ocean of knowledge.»

The Lahore-based Digital Rights Foundation earlier called the Wikipedia ban an affront to Pakistanis’ right to access information and a mockery of the country’s commitment to upholding its human rights obligations.

Pakistan has briefly banned TikTok twice in the past for allegedly uploading «immoral, obscene and vulgar» content.

But the ban was later lifted after TikTok assured Pakistan that it would remove immoral content and also block users uploading «illegal content.» The app was downloaded millions of times in Pakistan when the ban was imposed in 2020 and 2021.

Additionally, in 2008, Pakistan banned YouTube for videos featuring the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims generally believe that any physical depiction of the prophet of Islam is blasphemy.

Also Monday, Amir Mahmood, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, sought government protection and said unidentified Islamists in multiple separate attacks have damaged Ahmadi places of worship in the southern province of Sindh and other parts of the country.

“The freedom of religion that the constitution grants us is being reduced,” he told The Associated Press.

The attacks, which took place over several days, caused no casualties, Mahmood said.

The Ahmadi faith was established in the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whose followers believe that he was the messiah promised by the Prophet Muhammad.

The Pakistani parliament declared the Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. Since then, they have been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists in the Muslim-majority nation, drawing international condemnation.