ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X (formerly Twitter) said on Thursday it would work with Pakistan’s government “to understand its concerns” after authorities insisted an ongoing two-month ban was based on security grounds.

The platform has been intermittently accessible since Feb 17, when former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha made startling ‘revelations’ about alleged manipulation in the general election results and accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of being involved in rigging.

“We continue to work with the Pakistani Government to understand their concerns,” X’s Global Government Affairs team posted, in their first comments since the site was disrupted.

The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday said X was blocked on security grounds, according to a report submitted to the Islamabad High Court where one of several challenges to the ban is being heard.

On the same day, the Sindh High Court ordered the government to restore access to social media platform X within a week.

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

The court’s order, issued on Thursday, said that the ministry’s letter did not give any reasons for why the platform was blocked, nor did it comply with the established rules for blocking of harmful online content.

“The court order gave the government one week to decide what it wants to do,” lawyer Jibran Nasir, another petitioner, told AFP.

Both the government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had refused to comment on the outages for weeks.

“It is the sole prerogative and domain of the federal government to decide what falls within the preview of terms of ‘defence’ or ‘security’ of Pakistan and what steps are necessary to be taken to safeguard National Security,” said the interior ministry’s report, submitted by senior official Khurram Agha.

The interior ministry had earlier suggested intelligence agencies were behind the order.

The closure of a social media service “when there is request from any security or intelligence agency” is “well within the scope of provisions of the PTA act”, the report said.

Digital rights activists, however, said it was designed to quash dissent after February 8 polls that were fraught with claims of rigging.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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