KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed relevant authorities to ensure continuous internet access for all citizens until the general elections on February 8.
In an order issued on Wednesday, the high court prohibited the authorities from suspending internet services and instructed the respondents to present their response by January 29.
Human rights activist Jibran Nasir, an advocate, had filed a petition in the SHC against the frequent suspension of internet services in the country. With political canvassing gaining momentum ahead of next month’s elections, users have faced multiple internet outages in recent days.
On January 20, social media platforms, including Facebook, X, Instagram, and YouTube, experienced their second outage in two weeks. Following a prolonged disruption the previous week, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) attributed the nationwide internet outage to a “technical fault” in its optic fibre network.
The PTA assured on its official X account: “The recent disruption in internet services was caused by a technical fault, which has been promptly rectified. Internet services have been fully restored nationwide.” Downdetector.pk reported disruptions in Google services and the internet service provider PTCL.
There were also social media reports of a complete internet blackout ahead of the polls. A report titled “Under Siege: Legislative, Judicial and Executive Actions Stifling Freedom of Expression and Right to Information,” published by the Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), revealed a deterioration in the relationship between the state and media freedoms over the past two years.
This deterioration was attributed to increased instances of censorship, violence against journalists, and government disdain for critical media. According to the report, titled as part of its annual state of digital journalism series, the PTA blocked 1.1 million URLs, including 187 mobile applications during the period under review.
Out of the blocked or removed URLs and content, approximately 200,000 were alleged to be related to contempt of court, against the defence of Pakistan or the glory of Islam, and included defamatory and sectarian/hate speech content, as stated in the report.
The report also highlighted a substantial number of content removal requests from the Pakistani government to major tech platforms such as Google, Meta, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter).