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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Pakistan Restricts Internet Access Amid PTI Online Jalsa

The virtual event, termed a "virtual power show," was a response to a government crackdown on the PTI and election-related gatherings, according to the party.

On Sunday, Pakistani authorities took temporary measures to slow down internet services and block access to major social media platforms during an unusual online rally organized by the imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The virtual event, termed a “virtual power show,” was a response to a government crackdown on the PTI and election-related gatherings, according to the party.

In a statement, PTI accused the government of disrupting internet speed and social media platforms across the country as a preemptive move before the virtual rally, describing it as evidence of the government’s fear of Imran Khan’s unprecedented popularity. NetBlocks, an independent global internet monitor, confirmed the disruption, highlighting a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Read more: Sher Afzal Marwat of PTI arrested outside the Lahore High Court

As election officials prepare for national elections on February 8, Imran Khan aged 71, remains in a political standoff with the powerful military since his government was toppled in April 2022 through a parliamentary no-confidence motion. Khan rejected the motion, alleging illegalities and claiming the United States orchestrated his ouster with the help of the Pakistani military—an accusation denied by both Washington and Islamabad.

Facing numerous lawsuits filed by authorities, Khan asserts that they are part of a military ploy to prevent his return to power due to his advocacy for an independent foreign policy free from U.S. influence. Although initially found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison in August, a higher court later suspended his sentence and ordered his release on bail. However, Pakistani authorities have refused, citing additional lawsuits against him.

Read more: Election Commission Notifies PTI Over Rigged Intra-Party Polls Plea

A government crackdown on Khan’s party, allegedly backed by the military, has resulted in the arrest of key aides, including former ministers and lawmakers. They face charges related to attacks on army installations during anti-government protests led by the PTI in May. While some PTI members remain in jail awaiting trial, others have been released after denouncing Khan publicly, leaving the party, or joining other groups under alleged military pressure.

Despite these challenges, public opinion polls continue to indicate Khan as the country’s most popular politician, with his party regarded as a significant political force in Pakistan.