KARACHI: Pakistan has been ranked third in the world over the imposition of internet restrictions in the first half of 2023.

According to a report by Surfshark, a virtual private network company headquartered in Lithuania, a half-year analysis of internet shutdown based on the Internet Shutdown Tracker reveals that Pakistan was responsible for three of the 42 new restrictions worldwide, which were imposed following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan on May 9.

At the time, access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube was restricted in the country, while several temporary cellular network disruptions were also witnessed across the country for several days afterward.

The Surfshark report ranks Pakistan behind Iran and India as the countries leading the list of regimes who imposed internet restrictions during the first half of 2023. With Asia being the focal point of most internet shutdowns.

Iran, India dominate tally for most shutdowns in first half of 2023, says report by Surfshark

Iran witnessed the most internet disruptions in this time, with 14 cases in total, all of which occurred in Zahedan during Friday protests over the Zahedan massacre.

India and held-Kashmir

India closely trailed Iran, with at least nine cases, the majority of which occurred during protests.

Interestingly, the report mentions two separate internet shutdowns in ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, which were ostensibly also ordered by the Indian government. If these are added to the country’s tally, India’s count rises to 11 instances of internet shutdowns in a six-month period.

According to the report, protests were the main cause of government-imposed internet restrictions.

More than two-thirds of the new disruptions, the count of which is 30 were triggered by public outrage over social and political issues. This survey also highlights that the internet is the primary battleground for important information during periods of civil unrest.

Surfshark’s Internet Censorship Tracker analyses reports from the news media and digital rights organisations such as Netblocks and Access Now and collects data from social media companies to document cases.

Overview of apps restricted in 2023

Facebook continued to face heavy restrictions in the first half of 2023. The app was restricted in Ethiopia, Guinea, Senegal, Pakistan, and Suriname. All of these countries have had a history of government-imposed internet restrictions.

Telegram, Instagram, and YouTube shared the second spot on the list of most-blocked social platforms, each facing restrictions in four countries. WhatsApp and Twitter were close and shared the third spot on the list, each facing restrictions in three countries.

While TikTok was restricted by just one country in the first half of the year, Ethiopia. However, the United States is on its way to becoming the eighth country to ban this platform, the report stated.

Global decline

According to the report, the first half of 2023 saw a 31 per cent decline in new internet disruption cases as compared to the same period in 2022. But the number of countries imposing these restrictions went up from 13 to 14.

Overall, Asia led the world for internet disruptions, accounting for 71pc of new global cases. An estimated 2.35 billion people experienced internet censorship throughout the year, Surfshark found.

The report also states that the decrease in global restrictions primarily comes from the drop in cases from Jammu and Kashmir, which fell from 35 in the first half of 2022 to just 2 in the same period in 2023.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2023

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