The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has announced that internet services will not be halted across the country on February 8, the day of the elections. This assurance comes amidst concerns raised by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, regarding potential disruptions to internet access during the electoral process. The PTA’s statement clarifies that there have been no government directives to shut down internet services on polling day. Instead, decisions regarding any disruptions in specific areas will be made by local authorities based on security considerations.
The issue of internet shutdowns has been a contentious one in Pakistan, particularly in the lead-up to political events. In the past two months alone, there have been three instances of internet stoppages, purportedly due to technical reasons. However, these shutdowns have faced legal challenges, with the Sindh High Court ruling against further interruptions to internet services until after the elections. Human rights activist Jibran Nasir has also petitioned against these shutdowns, highlighting concerns about their impact on democratic processes and freedom of expression.
Moreover, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has approached the Supreme Court to address the blocking of various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. This move reflects growing tensions surrounding internet freedom and access to information in the country. Rights organizations have urged both the Prime Minister and the Election Commission to ensure that internet access remains unimpeded during the elections, emphasizing its critical role in facilitating democratic participation, fostering public discourse, and safeguarding fundamental rights.
The ability to use the internet and social media platforms is indispensable for citizens to engage in electoral activities, exchange ideas, and access vital information. Any restriction on internet access not only undermines democratic principles but also impedes citizens’ ability to exercise their rights and participate meaningfully in the electoral process. Therefore, it is imperative for the Pakistani government to uphold internet freedom and ensure that all individuals can utilize online resources without impediment, particularly during crucial events such as elections.