X shutdown enters 8th day in Pakistan with VPN services also restricted

Khawaja Burhan Uddin
February 25, 2024

Rights activist Nighat Dad says X outage is not sending "good message" to investors or int'l organisations

Screengrab shows X services down in Pakistan.

KARACHI: Despite the passage of eight days, the services of social media giant X, formerly Twitter, remained suspended across Pakistan while the authorities have not offered any explanation for the outage.

The disruption began on Saturday last week. Thousands of Pakistanis turn towards the Elon Musk-owned platform for quick dissemination of information, but they are unable to access it.

Despite Geo.tv's attempts to reach out to relevant authorities — including thePakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and ministers — no one has commented on the outage.

Global internet monitor, NetBlocks, said VPN services have also been restricted in the country causing difficulty for users in accessing the micro-blogging site.

“User reports indicate possible problems at X (Twitter),” said website tracker Downdetector.com.

Screengrab shows X outages reported on February 25, 2024. —Downdetector.com

Nighat Dad, the executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), told Geo.tv that the X outage is damaging the image of the country. She added the PTA is not being transparent about these outages and disruptions.

The rights activist noted that there is a likelihood of "consuming disinformation by users on platforms like X where people have a space to exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of speech and access to information specifically during times of elections or conflict".

“That's where we need these platforms where people have more and more speech and the other people can counter this information as well, and, specifically around elections,” she added.

The X outage, she said, is not sending a good message to the investors or international organisations who can see Pakistan as a potential avenue for investment in the IT sector.

“I don't think it's a good beginning for this newly formed government or the go or any party that is forming a government in Pakistan.”

While boasting of being among the top internet user population globally, Pakistan struggles with internet availability, ranking low compared to its peers, while reportedly authorities intermittently disrupt access to social media platforms.

Ahead of the February 8 general elections, users were unable to access several social media sites, for which authorities concerned blamed a “technical error”.

However, on the polling day, the internet was shut down to avoid terrorism, according to the caretaker government. Following the sought-after polls, there were repeated disruptions in accessing X.

Internet shutdowns directly contradict constitutionally guaranteed rights like freedom of information (Article 19-A), freedom of speech (Article 19), and freedom of association (Article 17). In its February 2018 ruling, the Islamabad High Court declared internet shutdowns against fundamental rights and the constitution.

Digital rights activists had slammed the authorities’ move to disrupt the access to the social media platform and deplored the utter lack of transparency from the government.

The Sindh High Court Thursday ordered the PTA to fully restore the services of social media platform X across the country and sought a detailed response from the authority and other parties at a later hearing — however, the PTA is yet to allow accessibility.


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