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Pakistan Says it Blocked Social Media Platform X over ‘National Security’ Concerns

The platform remained inaccessible to users, but officials refused to acknowledge any restrictions, until now

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on April 18, 2024, 13:17:53

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platform x, national security, pakisthan elections

Pakistan blocked access to social media platform X around the time of elections in February, the interior ministry said, citing national security concerns.

Users had reported problems using the platform, formerly known as Twitter, since mid-February, when jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party called for protests against a government official’s admission of vote manipulation.

At the time, both the government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the state regulatory body, refused to comment on the outages that were also widely reported by internet watchdog groups.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior mentioned the shutdown in a written court submission.

“It is very pertinent to mention here that the failure of Twitter/X to adhere to the lawful directives of the government of Pakistan and address concerns regarding the misuse of its platform necessitated the imposition of a ban,” said the report, seen by the Reuters news agency, which confirmed the long-suspected shutdown.

“The decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order and preserving the integrity of our nation,” the ministry said, according to the report submitted to the Islamabad High Court in a challenge to the shutdown.

It additionally said the platform had been reluctant to resolve the issue. Activists challenging the ban said it was designed to quash dissent after the February 8 general elections that were marred by widespread opposition claims of vote rigging and protests.

The authorities had shut down mobile services on the day of the elections, citing security concerns. NetBlocks, an internet monitor, also reported that users could not access X on February 10 while the country was awaiting the results.

The decision to temporarily block X was taken after considering confidential reports from Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies, the report said. It claimed that “hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy”.

The Sindh High Court on Wednesday ordered the government to restore the platform within one week, the AFP news agency reported, citing lawyer Moiz Jaaferi, who launched a separate challenge against the ban.

Access to X has been sporadic, occasionally available for short cycles based on the internet service provider, forcing users to use virtual private networks, said Alp Toker of NetBlocks.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party is the most prolific user of social media platforms, particularly after the country’s traditional media began censoring news about the former cricket star and his party in the run-up to the polls. Khan has 20.6 million followers on X.

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