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Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Thursday said the decision of Pakistan authorities to suspend telecommunications and mobile internet services on election day was a “blunt attack” on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The human rights group called on the authorities to adopt a “rights-respecting approach” and urgently lift all “blanket restrictions” on access to the internet.

The development comes after telecommunication and internet services were suspended across Pakistan on Thursday.

“The decision to suspend telecommunications and mobile internet services on an election day is a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Amnesty International calls on the Pakistan authorities to urgently lift the blanket restrictions on access to the internet,” Amnesty International said.

The group had earlier called on Pakistani authorities to guarantee uninterrupted access to internet and digital communication platforms for everyone across the country on the election day.

The world’s fifth largest democracy voted under a bar on communication with mobile internet services disrupted and delays in the start of polling reported at several areas.

Nearly 129 million Pakistanis were due to vote across 90,000 polling stations across the country amid hope that helping elect the 266 candidates would steer the country out of its current economic crisis.

“Mobile services are down due to extreme security reasons. Ensuring security is vitally important so that people turn out without fear,” the Ministry of Interior wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

It may be noted that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had earlier said that the internet services would work on the election day, dispelling reports that any kind of disruption would take place.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also condemned the suspension of cellular and internet services, saying “disruption to services has occurred despite the Sindh High Court’s direction to the caretaker government to ensure uninterrupted internet services on polling day”.

“With the PTA claiming it has received no instructions from the government to block internet services, there is a worrying lack of transparency about where, when and how long the disruption will continue, thereby affecting voters’ right to information and potentially the transmission of results. Those who gave this order must be identified and held responsible,” the HRCP wrote in a post on X.

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