Over 100 social media accounts blocked in Pakistan due to ‘promoting anti-State and anti-Islam activities’
Pakistan and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On the 31st of May, 2023 Islamabad Police Officers confirmed the suspension of over 100 social media accounts on various platforms. The accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube were reported by the Islamabad Police on the basis of the accounts promoting sectarianism, anti-state, terrorist, and anti-Islam activities, according to the police. It has been reported that the Provisional of Violent Extremist Unit (PVE) of the Islamabad Counterterrorism Department (CTD) had scoured social media and ultimately produced findings of over 200 accounts promoting the above-mentioned activities. This was then used by the Islamabad Police as a basis, alongside details of the accounts and screenshots of illegal activities, to request the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) ban such accounts, of which half have already been blocked.
Although the banning of such dangerous accounts would generally be considered a positive development, one cannot help but point out similar social media bans that have occurred in Pakistan as a result of similar political turmoil and civilian protests. Earlier this month, from the 9th of May 2023 up to the 12th of May 2023, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. The PTA directly attributed this to the violent protests sparked by Imran Khan’s arrest, with the interior minister, who issued the request to the PTA to suspend these social media platforms, stating these would not be restored until those involved in violence during protests were caught. This move was heavily criticised by social and political actors in Pakistan, as well as members of the international business community and civil society. Even the NGO Amnesty International stated this decision was a clear violation of the right to access information as well as of the right to free expression. Even after the PTA announced it would lift these restrictions, many users continued to report a lack of access to these social media platforms.
Even prior to this, in April 2021, the PTA had blocked access to Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube, and Telegram for a four-hour period. On this account, the PTA cited this was necessary to maintain public order and safety, as this came from a request of the Ministry of Interior. This came a mere few days after civilian unrest and protests, similar to the other two restrictions, due to protests by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan or TLP who used social media to call for action. In this case, the interior minister once more referred to those involved as terrorists, agitators, and people spreading unrest, similar to those whose social media accounts were recently deleted.
Based on Pakistan’s very recent past of restricting its protestors, it is relevant to keep an eye on developments surrounding this topic and ensure people’s freedom of speech and access to information is not once again stripped away.
Sources and further reading:
- Azeem, M. 106 accounts blocked over ‘anti-state’ activities. (2023, May 31). Dawn.com. Retrieved 31 May 2023 from https://www.dawn.com/news/1756983
- Sadozai, I. Mobile broadband, access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube being restored across Pakistan: PTA. (2023, May 12). Dawn.com. Retrieved 31 May 2023 from https://www.dawn.com/news/1752667/mobile-broadband-access-to-twitter-facebook-and-youtube-being-restored-across-pakistan-pta
- Dawn. Netizens encountering issues accessing social media sites. (2023, May 13). Dawn.com. Retrieved 31 May 2023 from https://www.dawn.com/news/1752846/netizens-encountering-issues-accessing-social-media-sites
- Ali, K. Social media access restored in Pakistan after blockage to ‘maintain public order’. (2021, April 16). Dawn.com. Retrieved 31 May 2023 from https://www.dawn.com/news/1618552/social-media-access-restored-in-pakistan-after-blockage-to-maintain-public-order