In Pakistan, threats continue to internet access, including social media

The recent clash over internet freedoms in Pakistan ignited over the weekend and fizzled out by Monday, yet it laid bare the nation’s profound tensions regarding online content regulation.

On Saturday, a member of Pakistan’s Senate proposed a resolution calling for the prohibition of major social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and X (formerly Twitter) within the country. This move followed months of social media shutdowns and internet disruptions linked to the general election.

According to the resolution, these platforms were accused of negatively impacting the youth by spreading malicious propaganda against the military and endorsing fake leadership.

Senator Bahramand Tangi, in an interview with a Pakistani news outlet, alleged widespread misuse of social media by the majority in the country, specifically pointing fingers at journalists who he claimed openly favored political parties and disseminated their propaganda through social media.

However, facing intense criticism over potential violations of constitutional freedoms, the resolution was withdrawn on Monday. Nevertheless, the specter of restrictive measures on social media and the internet continues to loom in Pakistan, as experts caution.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy Director at digital rights organization Access Now, highlighted the already significant legal powers wielded by the government. In 2022, amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act criminalized online defamation of authorities, imposing severe penalties.

Recent events underscore this trend. Independent journalist Asad Ali Toor was arrested last month for allegedly breaching these laws through his online activities. The government and telecom authority frequently employ intrusive measures to block specific websites and communication channels, and they are not hesitant to shut down the internet entirely during protests or demonstrations.

The recent restriction on X occurred amidst heightened sensitivity regarding social media limitations in Pakistan. On February 17, access to X was restricted amid escalating unrest and protests over allegations of election fraud.

These measures, which also included suspending mobile services on election day, have drawn criticism from opposition groups and international observers. Despite facing backlash, there are concerns that the government may resort to more internet shutdowns and pressure social media platforms for content censorship, prompting calls from digital rights organizations for civil society and policymakers to mobilize against such arbitrary restrictions.

While attempting to access the platform on Friday, one of the Pakistani citizens interviewed by Recorded Future News encountered the following message:

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