A day after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had announced restoring mobile broadband services, social media platforms still remained inaccessible on Saturday, according to Reuters and user reports.
On May 9, the regulatory authority had suspended mobile broadband and restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on the interior ministry’s instructions in the wake of violent protests sparked by PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest.
The decision was taken after social media was flooded with footage of a mob clashing with police in Karachi, attacking and entering the army’s head office, General Headquarters, in Rawalpindi and vandalising the official residence of a high-ranking military officer in Lahore.
Late last night, the PTA had said the services would be restored in a staggered manner while Reuters had also quoted the authority saying it was “removing restrictions on access to social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook”.
However, today, internet connectivity watchdog Downdetector showed a spike in outage reports since earlier this morning — the fourth day of such restrictions — while accessing the said platforms.
Downdetector graphs — displaying the number of problem reports submitted in the past 24 hours — for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube indicated that the spike was noticeable from 8am onwards today.
Maps on the website for the same platforms showed that the outage reports were concentrated in major cities of Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.
Encountering issues while accessing social media, netizens used Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) — as has been the case for the past four days — to take to Twitter and voiced their concerns.
Internet advocacy firm Bolo Bhi Director Usama Khilji pointed out that Twitter and YouTube were still blocked in Pakistan as mobile internet access was restored after four days.
“Most people accessing Twitter through a VPN, presumably the prime minister of the country as well. Meanwhile, Pakistani hashtags are trending in the Netherlands as VPN use skyrockets,” he added.
As claimed by his tweet, Dawn.com confirmed that some of the trending hashtags based in the Netherlands were related to Pakistani matters. The screengrab below shows some of them, including “ReleaseImranRiazKhan”, “Pakistan”, “I_Am_Also_Imran_Khan” and “May Allah”.
The Nest I/O Founder Jehan Ara also condemned the access blockage, emphasising that access to information was a basic human right.
In a tweet, she said, “Blocking access to social media platforms like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook is yet another move I don’t understand at all. This is not the first time this has happened.
“I thought access to information and freedom of expression were basic human rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution. And we claim to be a democracy?” she asked.
Senior anchorperson Maria Memon highlighted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also using a VPN to tweet since the social media platform could not be accessed without it.
VICE South Asia Editor Sahar Habib Ghazi took to Twitter saying, “For the record, I have 4G but I can’t use Twitter and most social media without a VPN both on 4G and WiFi.”
Journalist Shiraz Hassan tweeted: “Twitter is not working in Pakistan.”
Another journalist, Yusra Askari — referring to the option VPNs have of using a Netherlands-based server — asked Twitter users: “Are you still in the Netherlands?”