Amid ban, X says working with govt to ‘understand concerns’

Published April 18, 2024
A man uses the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on his phone at a market in Islamabad on April 17. — AFP
A man uses the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on his phone at a market in Islamabad on April 17. — AFP

Social media platform X, which has been disrupted in Pakistan since February, has said that it continues to work with the government to “understand their concerns”.

The brief statement was made by X’s Global Government Affairs late on Wednesday night, the first comments since the site was disrupted.

Access to X has been disrupted 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.

Rights bodies and journalists’ organisations have condemned the muzzling of social media, while internet service providers have also lamented losses due to disruptions. The United States had also called on Pakistan to lift restrictions on social media platforms.

In March, the interior ministry had informed the Sindh High Court (SHC) that the social media platform was blocked pending further orders on the reports of intelligence agencies.

The interior ministry’s admission came days after Information Minister Attaullah Tarar acknowledged that X was “already banned” when the new government took over the reins from the caretaker set-up, saying there was no official notification for the clampdown.

On Wednesday, the SHC directed the interior ministry to either justify the shutdown of X or rescind its Feb 17 letter directing the telecom regulator to ban the site.

“The SHC has given the government one week to withdraw the letter, failing which, on the next date, they will pass appropriate orders,” Abdul Moiz Jaferii, a lawyer challenging the ban, told AFP.

Meanwhile, the ministry also submitted a detailed report before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), insisting that the site was banned “in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation”.

The report, submitted before IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, said the social media platform was not registered in Pakistan nor was it under any obligation to comply with Pakistani laws.

It claimed that X had “not complied with the requests of Pakistani authorities” after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s cybercrime wing forwarded numerous requests via the Pakistan Telecommun­ication Authority (PTA) to take “significant action to block accounts involved in a defamatory campaign against the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan”.

Noting that the FIA’s wing had initiated several FIRs against hundreds of Twitter accounts, the interior ministry asserted that the “lack of cooperation from Twitter/X authorities in addressing content that violates Pakistani laws and values further justifies the need for regulatory measures, including the temporary ban”.

“The government of Pakistan has no alternative but to temporarily block access/suspend the operation of this platform within Pakistan,” it said.

The report said the interior ministry had on Feb 17 asked for blocking of X immediately till further orders on the reports of intelligence agencies.

“The decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation,” it contended, adding that the decision was taken after considering “various confidential reports received from intelligence and security agencies of Pakistan”.

It emphasised that “hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy”.

“The ban on Twitter serves as a necessary step to disrupt the activities of these elements and prevent them from achieving their destructive objectives,” the report said.

It noted that X was neither registered in Pakistan nor had it signed an agreement to abide by local laws. It said the platform’s “failure to establish a legal presence or engage in meaningful cooperation with Pakistani authorities underscores the need for regulatory measures to ensure accountability and adherence to national laws”.

“The ban on Twitter/X serves as a necessary step to address this regulatory vacuum and compel the platform to respect the sovereignty and legal jurisdiction of Pakistan,” the interior ministry added.

It said social media platforms were extensively used to propagate extremist ideologies and fake information, adding that some miscreants were using social media as a tool to create a law and order situation and destabilise Pakistan.

It said the ban on X was not to restrict access to information but to streamline the use of social media platforms, and the interior ministry was under obligation to protect citizens’ rights and national interests.

It pointed out that TikTok was also banned earlier and was only restored after it agreed to abide by the law of the land.


Additional input from AFP

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