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Pakistan

Amnesty International calls for ‘uninterrupted internet access’ in Pakistan on election day

  • Caretaker Interior Minister Dr Gohar Ejaz had earlier said access to internet can be curtailed if requested by any province or required in a district on election day
Published February 6, 2024

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday called on Pakistani authorities to guarantee uninterrupted access to internet and digital communication platforms for everyone across the country on February 8, the election day.

“In light of the statement by caretaker interior minister Gohar Ejaz today, stating that internet disruptions and shutdowns are a possibility during the February 8 General Election, we urge PM Anwar Kakar and ECP to ensure people across the country have full access to the internet and social media platforms to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freely share and access information,” the human rights group said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

In a presser earlier during the day, Caretaker Interior Minister Dr Gohar Ejaz had said internet suspension could be an option in case of a security issue in a particular province or district on the election day.

“No decision has been made regarding suspension of the internet on February 8. However, if the government is informed about a terrorist activity in any province or district on the election day, access to internet can be curtailed in that area as they [terrorists] also communicate through internet-related means of communication such as WhatsApp,” Ejaz said.

Major internet connectivity issues reported across Pakistan, social media websites down

Gohar’s statement alarmed the human rights group and many in Pakistan, who took his words as a hint for the internet disruption on February 8.

“Public institutions have a duty to ensure that people can access open, secure, and free internet when they need it the most — including during important national events. During the 2024 general election, we urge authorities in Pakistan to #KeepItOn,” Amnesty said in a separate press release.

The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance, advancing inclusiveness and transparency, and enabling the enjoyment of fundamental human rights in a democratic society. These platforms enable public discourse about election processes and political candidates, and allow voters to hold governments accountable for their actions, it explained.

The development comes just after a day an official of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) dispelled reports claiming pre-planned disruption of the internet, and confirmed to Business Recorder that internet will work without interruption on the election day.

In last few months, disruption in access to the internet in general and social media websites in particular has been a hot topic in the country, especially when there is a virtual event of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party that has repeatedly accused the interim government as well the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of not providing a level-playing field to contest the polls.

Internet suspension not only hinders political activities, but also causes huge losses to the companies that rely on it.

As per an assessment, one day of internet shutdown costs Rs940 million to the telecom companies, which means the national exchequer also loses Rs329 million in taxation from the sector. The assessment is based on reports that telecommunication companies earned around Rs572 billion from cellular services last year.

According to Amnesty International, people in Pakistan suffered at least 11 internet shutdowns, with three separate instances in the span of just one week, in the year 2018 in which the last general elections were held in the country.

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