May 10, 2023
By Maryam Missal
While riots erupted in various parts of the country against the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan on May 9, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) impinging on basic civil liberties, immediately imposed a ban on mobile internet services, shutting down major social media platforms, where videos of arson and vandalism were being widely circulated.
According to a Dawn report citing a PTA spokesperson, the ban was imposed on the written orders of the Ministry of Interior Affairs issued to the PTA. The measures were reportedly taken to prevent the further spread of violence across the country, the spokesperson had stated.
A day later on May 10, however, the PTA refused to give any response.
Meanwhile, as of the filing of this report, the internet services are yet to be completely restored.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated its Chairperson Hina Jilani not only mentioned the need for political dialogue but also a condemnation of the ban on internet services.
“HRCP was alarmed to see that the state’s knee-jerk reaction to the crisis was to restrict Internet connectivity. As before, such steps achieve little apart from allowing dangerous rumours to circulate and compromising people’s access to information and their safety in public spaces.”
said the statement.
Amnesty International’s South Asia office also issued a statement expressing alarm over the suspension of internet services and urged the PTA and the Interior Ministry to reverse the ban.
This restricts people’s access to information and freedom of expression. We call upon the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and Interior Ministry to immediately reverse this ban.
— Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office (@amnestysasia) May 9, 2023
Nighat Dad, lawyer and Executive Director of the Digital Rights Foundation, said that the restraint of the Internet without any legitimate aim is a violation of fundamental human rights, it is a violation of articles 19 and 19A of the Pakistani constitution.
Nighat told Voicepk., “Spread of disinformation, instigation and incitement of violence is the main concern for Government”, she added, “… but the government is now shutting down the internet to suppress dissent as well.”
The suspension of internet services was not limited to just major cities: outages were being reported in Dera Ismail Khan and Mardan as well.
“Internet shutdown is an authoritarian and outdated tactic,” Usman Khilji, a human rights activist and founder of Bolo Bhi told Voicepk. “Citizens are being deprived of the rights to express themselves and to access information.” He also said that these drastic steps were being taken to avoid an organized protest, which too was a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan.
Representative of HRCP and civil rights activist, Harris Khalique, shared his independent views on the matter with Voicepk.,”The first step should have been data control law and order because we have seen that our law-forcing agencies haven’t been able to control any violence despite this drastic measure.”
The suspension of the internet has caused distress among those who depended on the internet for their day-to-day activities. Employees of private cab services are facing a complete blockade in their job duties.
During this indefinite suspension of data services and certain social apps, citizens have relied on WiFi services like PTCL and StormFiber. The alternate social apps being used after Twitter includes, Facebook, TikTok, and Youtube. Access to Twitter has also been made possible with the illegal use of VPNs.