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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Uninterrupted Internet should be ensured : SHC directs Authorities

Over the past month, three such disruptions occurred on December 17, January 7, and January 20, coinciding with virtual events by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on social media.

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the federal government and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to ensure continuous internet access until February 8, coinciding with the scheduled general elections. The order, issued by a two-member bench led by SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, resulted from a petition filed by lawyer and independent candidate Jibran Nasir, who raised concerns about recent “unconstitutional” internet outages nationwide.

Over the past month, three such disruptions occurred on December 17, January 7, and January 20, coinciding with virtual events by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on social media. The PTI sought Supreme Court intervention to address the suspension of internet services and social media blockages. Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi attributed the outages to “technical” issues and system installations, with no guarantee against future incidents.

The court’s directive emphasized adherence to the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organisation) Act, 1996, and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules 2021. The order prohibits disruptions and shutdowns of mobile internet and broadband services unless specified by the mentioned legal provisions.

Reports revealing crackdown against 

Additionally, the court issued instructions for “smooth and uninterrupted mobile internet and broadband services,” allowing access to social media platforms and websites. A recent nationwide internet outage was attributed by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to a “technical fault” in its optic fibre network, which has since been rectified.

The 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), highlighted a deteriorating relationship between the state and media freedoms. Instances of censorship, violence against journalists, and government disdain for critical media were cited.

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The PTA, during the review period, blocked 1.1 million URLs and 187 mobile applications, with 200,000 allegedly related to contempt of court, defense of Pakistan, glory of Islam, and sectarian/hate speech content. The report also revealed numerous content removal requests from the Pakistani government to major tech platforms, including Google, Meta, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter). For instance, Meta restricted access in Pakistan to 12,001 items reported by the PTA for alleged violations of local laws between January 2021 and June 2022.