Civil Society Demands End to Social Media Disruptions in Pakistan
Civil Society Demands End to Social Media Disruptions in Pakistan

Civil society organizations have strongly criticized the ongoing disruptions of social media platforms and network shutdowns across Pakistan, calling for an immediate end to the clampdown. The disruptions, particularly affecting access to X, have been occurring since February 17, following allegations of electoral rigging by former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha against the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan. Similar disruptions were noted during the general elections.

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In a joint statement, human rights activists and civil society groups expressed deep concern over the increasing instances of internet shutdowns and social media platform blocking. They highlighted that such actions not only violate fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information but also stifle genuine political discourse and diversity of voices in the country. The arbitrary blocking of platforms, including the prolonged disruption of ‘X’, exemplifies growing digital censorship in Pakistan, silencing diverse political voices and contributing to the spread of misinformation.

The statement criticized the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for its inaction and lack of transparency regarding the shutdowns, stating that the absence of accountability has eroded trust between the state and its citizens. Additionally, reports of VPN throttling were condemned, further restricting access to information and violating privacy rights.

The civil society collective urged the government to immediately unblock X and take steps to reverse digital censorship. Recommendations included repealing sections of laws enabling censorship, acting transparently on internet-related decisions, issuing clarifications for recent platform blockings, and upholding commitments to freedom of expression and access to information under international agreements.

Information Minister Ataullah Tarar acknowledged concerns about censorship but emphasized the need to balance freedom of expression with state protection. He stated that efforts to spread anarchy and hinder economic growth must be countered while ensuring respect for rights. The issue of censorship would be discussed at the government level to achieve a middle ground that safeguards both freedoms and state interests.

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