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Elections: Balochistan decides to 'restrict' internet service in 'sensitive polling booths'

Info minister cites risk of terrorists' activity via social media apps on polling day

By Web Desk
February 05, 2024
Social media platforms icons can be seen on a phone as a person uses them in this undated image. — AFP
Social media platforms icons can be seen on a phone as a person uses them in this undated image. — AFP

The caretaker government in Balochistan has decided to keep the internet service restricted in the sensitive polling booths in certain areas of the province in the lead-up to the February 8 polls amid dire security risks due to a spike in terrorist attacks.

Balochistan caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai on Sunday night announced the decision, citing a threat of terrorist activity on the polling day.

Taking to X, the minister said that there was a risk that the terrorists might use the social media platforms as a means of communication for their nefarious plans.

"Ensuring the safety and security of ordinary citizens is of utmost importance, as there is a concern that terrorists may exploit social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and other similar channels for communication purposes," he wrote in an X post.

He said that internet access will be restricted in the lead-up to the elections in regions including Turbat, Mach, and Chaman, the areas latest to witness a terrorist attack in the province.

The decision comes amid a perilous situation in Balochistan in the wake of a recent spike in terrorist attacks, especially on political parties and their election rallies ahead of elections.

However, independent candidates with scant resources who rely on social media to spread their message have also been hit hard due to intermittent network outages.

Lawyer Jibran Nasir, who is running in the port city of Karachi, has taken the government to court over the social media shutdowns, saying it sets a "dangerous precedent" for the future and violates people's constitutional rights.

"It is a direct attack on the freedom of expression of all Pakistanis regardless of what part of the political spectrum they belong to," he told AFP.

"I primarily rely on social media because, given the inflation, it is virtually impossible to run a fully-fledged campaign within the budget limits."

With less than a week left in the February 8 polls, security across the country has been heightened with the deployment of law enforcers to ensure the law and order situation for the national-level polls.

The election preparations and campaigns go on in full swing but the country reels from consecutive incidents of violence that resulted in multiple deaths, especially at political parties’ rallies in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, raising concerns regarding the security situation.

Earlier this week, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja ruled out any possibility of communications and internet service outages on the polling day.

He also assured the peaceful conduct of elections.

Meanwhile, Sindh caretaker Information Minister Ahmed Shah said that there has been no decision on suspending the internet and communication services in the province on February 8.

— Additional input from AFP