On Friday, Pakistan temporarily banned WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms from 11 AM to 3 PM. The decision was taken by Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior. The Ministry ordered Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to ban all citizens of the nation the access to various social media platforms. In its statement the Ministry claimed that it would be briefly suspending all the services of Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram in the nation.
According to the news platform Dawn, the notification issued by the Ministry read, “…complete access to social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram) may be blocked from 1100hrs to 1500hrs on 16th April 2021 across the country.”
Although the ministry didn’t cite an official reason as to why it is banning those services, the Telecommunication Authority claimed that it was suspending access to “maintain public order and safety” by suspending cervices of “certain social media applications.”
The step came one day after the Pakistan government banned TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan), a radical Islamist party. According to the Pakistan govt, the TLP was banned under the country’s Terrorism Act because its supporters locked horns and clashed with the Pakistan enforcement agencies.
The TLP had been protesting in Pakistan against the French ambassador. The TLP clashed with the Pakistan enforcement officials in a violent protest after their demands of expelling the French ambassador wasn’t met. It should be noted that the TLP wanted the expelling of the French ambassador due to a blasphemous sketch that was published in France in 2020.
Pakistan protests turns violent
On Monday this week the party launched a nation-wide protest after its chief was arrested by Pakistan. The chief of TLP party is Saad Hussain. The protests took a violent turn on Wednesday as the protesters clashed with enforcement personnel in several towns of Pakistan, leaving 7 dead and over 300 police officials injured.
Ban imposed after protests
To curb the protests after the Friday prayers in the month of Ramadan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority was instructed by the Interior Ministry to ban all social media platforms from 11 AM to 3 PM. However, it should be noted that this was the first time the Pakistan government stopped all the social media platforms to target the TLP.
According to Pakistan government, the radical party was allegedly using these platforms to fight against government. The Interior Minister of Pakistan Mr. Rashid Ahmed also issued a warning for TLP for using YouTube to upload videos that were propaganda-esque in nature.
Although the suspension would only last for a few hours, TechCrunch reported that it contacted with a Pakistan based entrepreneur. The entrepreneur claimed that given the nature of the government, the suspension may likely last for a longer period of time.
VPN Working despite the ban
After the government put in action the ban, some Pakistan-based internet users tried using VPN to see if the platforms would continue to be accessible. To their surprise, the platforms were indeed working. These users then flocked over to Twitter and posted tweets claiming they have access to the banned social media platforms.
Not the first time Pakistan resorted to a ban
This is not the first time Pakistan government resorting to a ban of a social media platform to curtail acts of terrorism. The Pakistan government have over the years resorted to suspending internet and mobile phone network to curb protests.
In 2020, Pakistan had put a ban on TikTok after it reviewed a complaint claiming the video content app hosted objectionable content that were immoral and problematic in nature. The Pakistan Telecom Authority had then agreed with the complained and said that it had in fact, “issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok app.”
It should be noted that India, a neighbour to Pakistan, has also in recent years imposed similar bans. In 2020, the Modi-led government had imposed ban on Chinese apps such as PUBG and TikTok. In 2021, during the farmers’ agitation, the government was close to banning Twitter due to some objectionable accounts that were hosted on the platform.