KARACHI/ISLAM­ABAD: For a fourth straight day, social media platform X remained disrupted in many areas on Tuesday, with officials still reluctant to offer any clarity on the situation.

Rights bodies and journalists’ organisations have condemned the muzzling of social media, while internet service providers have also lamented losses due to disruptions.

The platform has been inaccessible since Satur­day when former Rawal­pindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha held a press conference and accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of being involved in rigging the Feb 8 general elections.

The platform remained sporadically accessible in some cities, while reports from Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi suggested disruptions on Tuesday.

Alp Toker, the director of NetBlocks, told Dawn that the latest metrics showed access has been “partially or intermittently restored for some users” while restrictions persisted in some areas.

“It’s unclear whether this is a temporary change or whether it marks a more general restoration in access to X/Twitter, and the incident is still classed as ongoing,” said Mr Toker, whose organisation reports on internet disruptions worldwide.

In a post on X, NetBlocks said access to X has been “intermittently restored” on some ISPs.

“Metrics indicate that X/Twitter remains restricted for many users in #Pakistan past the 72 hour mark, with access now; the incident is the longest of several internet censorship measures tracked through the election period,” it added.

Dawn contacted a Pakistan Telecom­muni­cation Auth­ority spokesperson for comment, but no response was received till the filing of this report.

Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, told AFP that the social media platform has been inaccessible because it is used by the public to protest.

While talking to Geo News, Mr Khilji criticised the government over the “utter lack of transparency”.

“There’s no notice, no announcement, no certainty around when the block will be lifted, which is creating a lot of uncertainty and an environment of disinformation because people cannot access information with integrity, can’t access instant information, which is the defining nature of [X],” he said.

Michael Kugelman, the South Asia Institute director at Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, said the government’s action has strengthened “PTI’s victimisation narrative”.

“[It] brings more global attention to the party and its plight and to the state’s actions against it. And it also increases public anger, and not just from PTI supporters.”

PFUJ condemns disruption

In a statement, on Tuesday, the Pakistan Fede­ral Union of Journalists (PFUJ) strongly condemned the disruption of social media and internet in Pakistan and demanded immediate restoration of X.

The statement lamented the continued disruption of internet and suspension of X for the last several days.

PFUJ President Afzal Butt and Secretary General Arshad Ansari said internet and social media are now primary sources of information globally, and such disruptions were a serious threat to freedom of expression and free speech, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.

“We stress the urgent restoration and provision of uninterrupted internet in the country,” they demanded.

While underlining the importance of social media and the internet, the PFUJ leadership said such practices were not only denying people vital information during the current chaotic situation but also hampering economic activities.

“Business community, investors and youth who are engaged in online business activities are facing a serious crisis and have lost billions due to the unwanted disruption of social media and internet.”

While rights bodies have decried the outage, political parties have not expressed much concern over the situation.

Incidentally, the IT and telecom industry stakeholders have also refrained from speaking on the subject despite mounting losses incurred due to disruptions.

A senior ISP executive said the monetary losses are just one of the consequences of these actions.

“Pakistan is facing reputation loss among the international players, and if the giants like [X] are not satisfied, the digital Pakistan initiative could face a lack of interest from the investors and global hi-tech companies in future.”

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2024

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