Information Minister Attaullah Tarar on Monday acknowledged that social media platform X was already banned when the new government took over the reins from the caretaker setup, saying there was no official notification for the clampdown.

Access to X has been disrupted in many areas of Pakistan since February 17, when former Rawal­pindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan of being involved in rigging the February 8 general elections.

Similar disruptions were also observed during the general elections.

The information minister had himself pushed back last week against the disruption and claimed X was still working, calling on those questioning otherwise to present a notification for the ban.

However, in an interview today with media platform World Echo News, Tarar contrasted his own statement, saying: “Twitter was already banned when we came into government. There is no official notification for it but obviously, everyone can see that its signal and frequency are not working as normal and it is being used through virtual private networks. This is correct.”

The information minister suggested that there should be a charter on “dos and don’ts of the red lines that should not be crossed”, adding that political parties should discuss issues such as misogynistic abuse of women, cursing and mockery of martyrs, etc

“I think there is a need for a charter and it will be a good thing if it happens.”

The minister was also questioned regarding press freedom, particularly the recent arrest of journalist Asad Ali Toor, to which he said: “I am a political activist at the ground level and have always been present with you. I would want that I fully perform my role regarding freedom of expression and journalism.”

Questioned about the Punjab government’s plans to bring a law tackling “fake news” and whether the federal government intended to bring something similar, Tarar said it would be better for political parties to decide matters between themselves on tackling the issue of “fake news” instead of the state sorting out the matter.

He also said talks could be and should be held with the Sunni Ittehad Council, and praised the conduct of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur for creating an atmosphere of conciliation.

“I think, hopefully, matters will be able to positively proceed with them,” Tarar added.

Meanwhile, PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid told Dawn.com to direct questions to the interior ministry regarding the disruption of X. “We can’t say anything on this matter now because we don’t know. Will share with you if any statement comes,” she said.

Questioned why the ministry should be approached when the internet fell in the PTA’s domain, she said: “Because the instructions are from the government” and declined to answer on whether the interior ministry had written to the authority to curtail access to X.

Govt urged to restore X

Amnesty International on Saturday called for the im­mediate restoration of soc­ial media platform X.

In a post on X, the human rights group said it had 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”.

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.

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.

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