Amnesty International urges ‘immediate’ restoration of X in Pakistan

  • Human rights body criticises ‘PTA’s silence,’ demands repeal of laws such as Section 37 of PECA

ISLAMABAD: Amnesty International, along with a coalition of human rights activists and civil society organisations, on Saturday called for the immediate restoration of social media platform X (formerly Twitter), blocked in Pakistan since February 17.

X has been inaccessible since former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha resigned over what he said was alleged “election rigging” in the Rawalpindi division. The platform ban came after the blockage of mobile phone services on election day – February 8.

“The arbitrary blocking of platforms, including the prolonged and unannounced disruption of “X” (formerly known as Twitter) since 17 February 2024, is a sobering illustration of growing digital censorship in the country,” said the statement.

The international non-governmental human rights organisation’s statement highlighted the detrimental impact of internet shutdowns and social media platform blocking on political discourse and the free flow of information, particularly in the lead-up to and following crucial electoral processes.

“Such actions not only silence diverse political voices but also create an environment which contributes to the spread of misinformation.”

The Amnesty International statement comes amidst mounting concerns over the erosion of freedom of expression and access to information in the country.

The human rights organisation also criticised the “complete silence of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)” and termed it extremely alarming as the authority failed to furnish any reasons for the ban and “exceeded its mandate to block an entire internet platform”.

“The absence of transparency in the decision-making processes surrounding network shutdowns and platform blocking and complete disregard for any accountability has resulted in an obvious erosion of trust between the state and its citizens,” added the statement.

Elaborating on the concerns, the organisation said the reported throttling of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) further impedes people’s access to information and infringes upon their right to privacy.

Amnesty International and its partners called for immediate action to reverse the course of digital censorship in Pakistan.

Specifically, Amnesty International urged the government to unblock X, repeal censorship-enabling laws such as Section 37 of The Prevention of Electronic Crime Act(PECA), and act transparently on decisions impacting internet usage for political and economic purposes.

Additionally, the human rights organisation and other signatories of the statement demanded a clarification outlining the legal basis for recent platform blockages and a commitment to upholding Pakistan’s international obligations to freedom of expression and access to information.

The incoming government, regulators, and public bodies were implored to recognise the enduring impact of actions that restrict the flow of information and impede citizens’ ability to express themselves, particularly concerning political participation.

Pakistan entered on Saturday its fourth week of nationwide disruption to social media platform X, with activists waging a court battle to get it restored.

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