No govt instructions to block internet, says PTA

Published February 8, 2024
A man explores social media on a computer at an internet cafe in Islamabad, Pakistan, August 11, 2016. — Reuters
A man explores social media on a computer at an internet cafe in Islamabad, Pakistan, August 11, 2016. — Reuters

KARACHI: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said on Wednesday that internet services will remain functional today (Thursday), as the nation goes to polls.

In a statement, the PTA said that it had not yet received any instructions from the government regarding an internet shutdown and that internet services would work without any interruption on Thursday.

The authority’s statement came a day after caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz on Tuesday hinted at the possible suspension of the internet services in case of security issues in any area on election day while Amnesty International called for uninterrupted internet access across the country during the polling process.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Ejaz said the government would consider suspending the internet service on Feb 8 only if it received a request from a district or province in view of the security situation.

However, he clarified that the caretaker government had so far not made any decision to suspend the internet service on polling day and that any such action would only be taken upon request from a province or district.

“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 added.

A day ago, Amnesty International called on the authorities to guarantee uninterrupted internet access.

In an open letter, it urged the authorities to guarantee uninterrupted access to the internet and digital communication platforms for everyone across Pakistan throughout the polling process.

“We, the undersigned organisations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organisations 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 Feb 8, 2024,” it said.

It noted as people prepare to vote, the authorities must adopt and prioritise measures that advance rights by enabling unrestricted access to information and avenues for freedom of expression, assembly, and association — both offline and online.

In a related development, the Sindh High Court on Tuesday, yet again, directed the federal authorities concerned to ensure the provision of smooth, uninterrupted internet service and access to social media platforms unless the relevant laws were invoked till Feb 21.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024

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