A Cairo court on Saturday ordered the government to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for 30 days for carrying an anti-Islam film that caused deadly riots across the world.
Judge Hassouna Tawfiq ordered YouTube blocked for carrying the film, which he described as “offensive to Islam and the Prophet [Muhammad].” He made the ruling in the Egyptian capital, where the first protests against the film erupted last September, before spreading to more than 20 countries, killing more than 50 people.
However, the ruling can be appealed, and based on precedent, might not be enforced. A spokeswoman for YouTube’s parent company, Google, said in a statement that the firm had “received nothing from the judge or government related to this matter.”
The 14-minute trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims” portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile. It was produced in the U.S. by an Egyptian-born Christian who is now a U.S. citizen.
Egypt’s new constitution includes a ban on insulting “religious messengers and prophets.” Broadly worded blasphemy laws were also in effect under former President Hosni Mubarak before his ousting in a popular revolt two years ago.
Similar orders to censor pornographic websites deemed offensive have not been enforced in Egypt because of high costs associated with technical applications. Blocking YouTube might be easier to enforce, though it also can be circumvented by active Internet users.
Rights activists say Egypt’s Communications and Information Technology Ministry has appeared unwilling to enforce such bans. The cabinet spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Human rights lawyer and executive director at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid said the decision to ban YouTube stemmed in large part from a lack of knowledge among judges about how the Internet works. Activists say this has led to a lack of courtroom discussion on technical aspects of digital technology, leaving cases based solely on threats to national security and defamation of religion.
“This verdict shows that judges’ understanding of technology is weak,” Eid said. “The judges do not realize that one wrong post on a website does not mean you have to block the entire website.”
Eid said the government should file an appeal and make it clear to judges that, at most, only specific pages on websites should be blocked.
His group released a statement saying that the decision to block YouTube was counterproductive, saying thousands of videos sought to promote a better understanding of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on the website.
Google declined requests to remove the video from the website last year, but restricted access to it in certain countries, including Egypt, Libya and Indonesia, because it said the video broke laws in those countries. At the height of the protests in September, YouTube was ordered blocked in several countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah issued an order blocking all websites with access to the anti-Islam film in the conservative kingdom.
Lawyer Mohammed Hamid Salim, who filed the case against the Egyptian government, alleged the film constitutes a threat to Egypt’s security, adding that YouTube refused to remove the film despite its offensive content. Protesters in Cairo scaled the U.S. Embassy’s walls and brought down the U.S. flag in the first demonstration against the film last year.
Two other cases filed against the government and Google are pending in Egyptian courts. One lawsuit calls for a complete ban on Google’s search engine and demands the company pay a $2 billion fine.