By Tommy Wilkes
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Monday it had removed a three-year ban on YouTube after the Google-owned video-sharing website launched a local version that allows the government to demand removal of material it considers offensive.
Pakistan banned access to YouTube in September 2012 after an anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims", was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in the Muslim-majority country of 190 million people.
Under the new version of YouTube, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) can ask for access to offending material to be blocked, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement.
"On the recommendation of PTA, the government of Pakistan has allowed access to the recently launched country version of YouTube for internet users in Pakistan," the ministry said.
The government could ask Google to block access to offending material for users within Pakistan and the ministry said Google and YouTube would "accordingly restrict access" for Pakistani users.
Google, however, said that it would not automatically remove material without conducting a review, and that the vetting process was the same as in other jurisdictions with local YouTube versions. Government requests to remove content would be publicly reported, it added.
"We have clear community guidelines, and when videos violate those rules, we remove them," it said in a statement.
"Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country, we may restrict access to it after a thorough review."
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in Pakistan, where angry mobs have killed many people accused of insulting Islam. The crime of blasphemy can carry the death penalty, although a death sentence has never been carried out.
Pakistan has blocked thousands of web pages it deems undesirable in the last few years as internet access spreads, but activists say the government sometimes blocks sites to muzzle liberal or critical voices.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie and Stephen Coates)