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Pakistan imposed ban on Twitter in February over national security concerns: Interior ministry

Pakistan's latest revelation confirms the long-suspected Twitter shutdown in the country after the general elections held on February 8. The interior ministry said that the platform's failure to address misuse necessitated a ban on the microblogging site.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Updated on: April 17, 2024 16:56 IST
Pakistan, X, Twitter shutdown
Image Source : FILE Representational Image

Islamabad: Pakistan's interior ministry on Wednesday said it had blocked the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) in February over national security concerns after the general elections, confirming suspicions of a long-suspected nationwide shutdown. The government made no official announcements after users reported problems using X since mid-February around the time of the elections.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry mentioned the shutdown in a written court submission on Wednesday. "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," read the report to the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

According to Dawn, access to the Elon Musk-owned X had been disrupted since February 17, when former Rawal­pindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan of being involved in rigging the February 8 general elections. Several political parties and leaders criticised the government for the internet shutdown amidst allegations of electoral fraud.

HC orders restoration of X within one week

In a post on X, the Internet tracking organisation NetBlocks reported the nationwide disruption in X's service following a "high-level resignation and public admission of vote manipulation by a senior election official". The confirmation from NetBlocks came after users of the website complained of facing difficulties loading its webpage.

Human rights organisations and media bodies condemned the muzzling of social media, along with internet service providers who lamented their losses due to disruptions. The US also had to call on Pakistan to lift restrictions on social media platforms. On March 20, the interior ministry informed the Sindh High Court (SHC) that the social media platform was blocked in February pending further orders on the reports of intelligence agencies.

This also came hours after the SHC ordered the Interior Ministry to revoke the shutdown on the social media platform within a week. The Chief Justice of the court highlighted that the "law does not empower the interior ministry to act on reports forwarded by intelligence agencies", according to Geo News.

'Decision made in the interest of maintaining public order'

The latest revelation by Pakistan's interior ministry comes nearly a month after Information Minister Attaullah Tarar said that X was "already banned" when the new coalition government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, took the reins from the caretaker setup, and that there was no official notification for the clampdown on the platform.

The report filed in the court said the interior ministry had  “asked for blocking of X (Twitter) immediately till further orders” on February 17 on the reports of intelligence agencies. "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,” it said.

It also blamed "hostile elements operating on X" for having "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 ministry saw the ban on X as a necessary step to "disrupt the activities of those elements and prevent them from achieving their destructive objectives".

The ministry also noted that X was neither registered in Pakistan nor had it signed any agreement to abide by local laws. Its "failure to establish a legal presence or engage in meaningful cooperation with Pakistani authorities underscores the need for regulatory measures to ensure accountability and adherence to national laws," the report said.

It claimed that X had “not complied with the requests of Pakistani authorities” after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) forwarded numerous requests via the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to take “significant action to block accounts involved in a defamatory campaign against the honourable chief justice of Pakistan”.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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