KARACHI: Amnesty Inter­n­a­tional has called for the im­mediate restoration of soc­ial media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) 29 days after the government blocked access to it.

In a post on X, the human rights group said it has signed a joint statement with 28 civil society organisations for the restoration of X and urged “Pakistani authorities to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and access to information under the country’s international human rights commitments”, according to a Dawn.com report.

The joint statement signed by Amnesty Inter­na­tional and civil society organisations called for immediate restoration of the platform. “We, a collective of human rights activists and civil society organisations, express profound concern over the incr­easing instances of internet shutdowns and social media platform blocking, specifically in the lead up to and following the general elections in Pakis­tan.

“These actions not only infringe upon the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information but also set a troubling precedent of throttling genuine political discourse including plurality of voices in the country.”

The arbitrary blocking of platforms, including the prolonged and unannounced disruption of “X”, formerly Twitter, since Feb 17, is a sobering illustration of growing digital censorship in the country, it said.

According to the statement, such actions not only silence diverse political voices, but also create an environment wh­i­ch contributes to the spr­ead of misinformation. Today, digital platforms play a pivotal role in shaping public discourse, and ensuring the free flow of information, through these digital mediums, is imperative for an informed society and fair electoral processes. The suppression of digital platforms, especially when initiated without transparency, often lacks adherence to due legal process and thus, undermines Pakistan’s international law commitments.

The statement points out that the complete silence of the Pakistan Telecommunica­tion Authority (PTA) is extre­mely alarming as it has failed to furnish any reasons for its actions and exceeded its mandate to block an entire internet platform. The absence of transparency in the decision-making processes surrounding network shutdowns and platform blocking and complete disregard for any accountability has resulted in an obvious erosion of trust between the state and its citizens.

“We are also dismayed by reports of throttling of VPNs, undermining people’s access to information and right to privacy. In light of these concerns, we call for immediate action to reverse the course of digital censorship in Pakistan.

“Specifically, we urge the government and public bodies to immediately unblock Twitter/X in Pakistan; repeal sections of the law such as Section 37 of PECA that enable censorship and violate Article 19 [right to freedom of speech and press freedom] and Article 19-A [right of access to information].”

The statement asked the government to act with transparency on decisions that impact the free use of internet, including for political and economic purposes and issue a statement of clarification, outlining the reasons and legal basis for the recent blocking of “X” and other affected platforms.

It called upon the authorities to avoid future actions that obstruct the free flow of information and adversely affect political discourse and take back all legislative proposals expanding control and censorship over the internet, including the e-safety bill from the previous government’s tenure, should not be revived.

The joint statement urged the government to abide by Pakistan’s commitments to uphold freedom of expression and right to access to information under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The statement was signed by Amnesty International, Pakistan Bar Council, PFUJ, AGHS, Bolo Bhi, Media Matters for Democracy, Digital Rights Foundation, Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Network, Pakistan Press Foundation, Bytes for All, HRCP, Women Democratic Front, Access Now, AWP, Aurat March, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan, Alliance for Diversity and Pluralism in Media in Pakistan, Pakistan Digital Editors Alliance, Pakistan Digital Media Association, Progressive Students Federation, Joint Action Committee for Refugees, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Zuka Books, and Reporters Without Borders.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2024

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