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Friday June 09, 2023

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are 'accessible now' in Pakistan

PTA suspended services of social media platforms after PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest sparked violent protests on May 9

By Web Desk
May 15, 2023
A representational image of a person holding a cellular phone and touching the keyboard of a laptop. — AFP/File
A representational image of a person holding a cellular phone and touching the keyboard of a laptop. — AFP/File

After almost a week-long suspension, the government on Monday finally started restoring the services of social media platforms — Twitter, YouTube and Facebook — across the country, sources within the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) confirmed.

The regulatory authority had suspended mobile broadband and restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after violent protests sparked in the country when the Rangers personnel arrested Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) — acting on National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) warrant on May 9.

At least 10 people were killed and dozens of others sustained injuries during the days-long protests.

The internet services were suspended on the recommendations of the interior ministry — the longest such continuous shutdown in a country that often suspends communications as a tool to quell unrest.

The internet suspension has resulted in an approximate revenue loss of Rs820 million for telecom operators, reports have suggested, a huge dent to the sector, as the economy remains in a fragile state.

Besides, the government had also blocked major social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook, while YouTube services were slower to control the spread of disinformation and panic among the masses due to the spread of "unwanted information".

Amnesty International expresses reservations

On May 12, Amnesty International urged Pakistan authorities to lift restrictions on internet services.

Rimmel Mohydin, the South Asian campaigner at Amnesty International, said: "There is an urgent need to de-escalate the situation in Pakistan as it threatens further severe violations of rights of the people and risks more fatalities."

While asking officials to restrain from excessive use of force, she added: "The authorities should be aiming to defuse the situation and the use of force by the state must go no further than is necessary and proportionate. Amnesty International strongly urges Pakistani authorities to exercise restraint and use minimum force without resorting to the use of firearms to disperse protesters."

"Alarmingly, the government has announced that the mobile internet shutdown is 'indefinite' which is a clear violation of people’s right to access information and free expression," she maintained.

"The ban on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube also creates a permissive environment for other human rights violations under the darkness of the internet shutdown," Mohydin highlighted, adding that "the restrictions must be lifted immediately."