PTA to provide uninterrupted internet services on election day

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) assured on Wednesday that internet services will not be suspended in the country on February 8 (tomorrow) as the nation heads to polls.

According to an official statement from the PTA, users can expect internet facilities to be available without interruption or obstacles on the day of the election. Importantly, the government has not issued any directives to shut down internet services on polling day.

The confirmation comes a day after Information Minister Murtaza Solangi stated that the government has not issued any guidelines for the shutdown of mobile phone services and the internet during the elections.

Highlighting that in case of a deteriorating law and order situation in any location, the local administration will evaluate the circumstances and make a decision accordingly.

Two days ago, Amnesty International (AI) , in collaboration with several other human rights organisations, issued a call to authorities in Pakistan, urging them to guarantee uninterrupted access to the Internet and digital communication platforms for all citizens across the country during the upcoming elections.

The appeal came in response to a statement made by Caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz earlier on February 6, acknowledging the possibility of internet disruptions and shutdowns during Thursday’s polls.

Addressing a news conference in the federal capital Ejaz dispelled rumours surrounding the elections on Feb 8, saying until now the authorities had not received any directives to shut down the internet services on the day.

He added that any such action would only be taken upon a request from a province or a district.

“As of now, no decision has been made to shut down mobile or internet services. However, if necessary, considerations are made based on security requests from specific districts or provinces [internet and mobile service will be suspended],” he remarked.

Expressing concern over the potential limitations on internet access, AI underscored the importance of upholding the right to freedom of expression and ensuring that citizens can freely share and access information online.

Internet services have been affected thrice in the past two months. The first time was on December 17, the second on January 7, and the latest one on January 20. The suspensions coincided with the PTI’s virtual events.

The interim government attributed the internet outages across the country to “technical issues”, stating that there was no assurance that such incidents would not recur in the future.

On January 24, the Sindh High Court (SHC) restrained the relevant authorities from suspending internet services till the general elections.

The SHC ordered the caretaker federal government and the PTA to ensure uninterrupted internet services till the polling day.

The order came on a petition filed by human rights defender and lawyer Jibran Nasir, who is contesting the polls for PS-110 as an independent candidate, against the frequent “unconstitutional” internet outages in the country in recent days.

Recently, the PTI moved the Supreme Court, urging it to take notice of the disruption of popular social media platforms including X, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

In light of these developments, the rights organisations specifically called upon Prime Minister Anwarrul Haq Kakar and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take proactive measures to guarantee full internet access and social media usage throughout the election period.

AI and its partners emphasised that any disruptions to internet access during the election would not only undermine the democratic process but also impede the ability of citizens to access crucial information and express their viewpoints freely.

The ability to access the internet and utilise social media platforms is vital for citizens to participate in democratic processes, engage in informed discourse, and exercise their fundamental rights.

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