ISLAMABAD: The Awami Workers Party (AWP) has officially appealed to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to order the removal of what appears to be a government-imposed block on its official website.

The party said the blocking of its website just weeks before the general election put the party at an unfair disadvantage, and left open the possibility of taking the matter to court if necessary.

The official AWP website became inaccessible a few days ago to many users on various networks in the country.

Visitors to the website now see a message stating that the website “is not accessible” because “it contains content that is prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan”.

The website is accessible to users outside the country.

In an official application submitted to the ECP on Tuesday, the AWP asked it to “exercise its powers to direct the Caretaker Government Pakistan and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to immediately unblock the official website of Awami Workers Party”.

The application cites section 8 of the 2017 Elections Act, which empowers the ECP to issue instructions to executive authorities “for ensuring that an election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly”.

The AWP said the blocking of the website of a legally registered political party violates the fundamental rights to association and expression as protected by the Constitution.

A similar complaint was also sent to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). The AWP has to date not been provided an explanation by the PTA or any other government authority for the apparent blocking of its website.

“The blocking of the AWP’s website at such a critical juncture is disturbing, as the content on our site only contains political information about our events and statements in support of all oppressed people in Pakistan and our vision for a truly democratic and progressive Pakistan,” said AWP leader Ammar Rashid.

“In recent weeks, several other website reflecting democratic and secular values have also been blocked, and AWP vows to continue its struggle for free expression in Pakistan,” he said.

AWP Deputy Secretary General Ismat Shahjahan said: “The internet, and technology in general, should be a tool to empower the oppressed and end social inequality. However what we are seeing in Pakistan and the world is that the internet is being as a used by capitalists and the ruling class to strengthen their monopoly over power.

“AWP rejects this vision of the world and will bring about real change in which technology serves the working people, not the powerful.”

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2018