Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Pakistan Government hints at Internet shutdown on Election day, #KeepItOn urges uninterrupted Internet access

Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz hinted at the possibility of suspending internet services in areas facing security threats on election day, February 8, however the #KeepItOn coalition has urged for continuous internet access nationwide throughout the polling period.

Gohar Ejaz, during a press conference on February 6, emphasized that any decision to suspend internet services would be made only upon receiving a formal request from concerned districts or provinces, taking into account the nature of the security threat.

“Before taking any such decision for a specific area, the government would look into the nature of the threat as it is necessary to block the online communication of terrorists,” he said.

Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi had previously ruled out the possibility of an internet shutdown on polling day, stating that local administrations had the authority to make such decisions based on the prevailing law and order situation.

Internet access will be restricted in certain regions of Balochistan

In a related development, Caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai announced temporary restrictions on internet services in sensitive polling booths within the province on election day.

Achakzai, in a statement shared on social media platform X, clarified that internet services would undergo temporary suspension in regions such as Turbat, Mach, and Chaman citing security concerns.

“Terrorists can use social media platforms for communication purposes,” he said, highlighting the government’s priority to ensure the safety of citizens during the elections.

Pakistan urged to ensure Internet access

Meanwhile, Amnesty International urged Pakistani authorities to ensure uninterrupted internet access throughout the polling process.

In an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, the organization emphasized the importance of unrestricted access to information and digital communication platforms to uphold human rights and facilitate a free and fair election.

“We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — appeal to you, Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, to publicly commit to ensuring that the people of Pakistan have unfettered access to the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels throughout the upcoming general election on February 8, 2024,” it said.

#Keepiton coalition urges Pakistan Govt to ensure uninterrupted internet access

The #KeepItOn coalition called on the Pakistani government to uphold uninterrupted internet access, emphasizing its crucial role in safeguarding human rights. #KeepItOn coalition is a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns.

Their appeal included the following agendas:

1. Publicly guaranteeing that the internet, along with social media and digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, inclusive, and secure before, during, and after the election.

2. Refraining from issuing orders to disrupt telecommunications services, social media platforms, or other digital communication platforms throughout the electoral process.

3. Ensuring that telecommunication and internet service providers (ISPs) implement necessary measures to deliver high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election period and beyond.

4. Ensuring that telecommunication and ISPs promptly inform the public about any potential disruptions and take appropriate measures to address identified disruptions that may impact service quality.

Amnesty International’s call for uninterrupted internet access comes amidst concerns over the potential disruption of the new Election Management System (EMS) due to internet service outages. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reassured that the EMS would function offline in case of internet disruptions.

SHC directive for provision of smooth internet services

Sindh High Court (SHC) also directed federal authorities to ensure smooth internet service and access to social media platforms until February 21.

The directive followed earlier petitions against the suspension of internet services, with the court emphasizing the importance of upholding citizens’ access to information and communication channels.

The petitions filed by lawyers and public interest groups had criticized the Ministry of Interior, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and other relevant ministries for disrupting internet and mobile services without sufficient justification, hindering political campaigns and citizens’ freedom of expression on social media.

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