SHC orders govt to restore X in one week

PTA acknowledges it had been ordered by interior ministry to shut the site down

AFP/news Desk April 17, 2024
Activists challenging the X shutdown say it was designed to quash dissent after February 8 polls. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Sindh High Court (SHC) said on Wednesday that the government must restore social media platform X within one week, a lawyer said, after more than two months of disruption ordered by the interior ministry.

The platform, formerly known as Twitter, has been rarely accessible since February 17, when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) called for protests against a government official's admission of vote manipulation in February's election.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) later acknowledged in court papers that it had been ordered by the interior ministry to shut the site down.

"The Sindh High Court has given the government one week to withdraw the letter, failing which, on the next date, they will pass appropriate orders," Moiz Jaaferi, a lawyer challenging the ban, told AFP.

Read more: X banned over 'misuse' of platform, interior ministry informs IHC

The interior ministry said that X was blocked on security grounds, according to a report submitted to Islamabad High Court in a separate challenge to the shutdown and shared with media.

"It is the sole prerogative and domain of the federal government to decide what falls within the preview of terms of 'defence' or 'security' of Pakistan and what steps are necessary to be taken to safeguard National Security," said the report, submitted by Interior Secretary Khurram Agha.

Both the government and PTA had for weeks refused to comment on the outages. The interior ministry suggested intelligence agencies were behind the order.

The closure of a social media service "when there is request from any security or intelligence agency" is "well within the scope of provisions of the PTA act", the report said.

Activists challenging the shutdown said that it was designed to quash dissent after February 8 polls that were fraught with claims of rigging.

Read: SHC orders restoration of social media apps

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 the NetBlocks internet monitor.

Mobile internet services were cut across Pakistan on election day, with the interior ministry citing security reasons. It was followed by a long delay in issuing voting results, giving rise to allegations of rigging.

The prolonged disruption of X raised widespread concerns about democratic freedoms in the country.

A total of 28 civil society organisations, including Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, issued a joint statement of condemnation.

Besides, Federal Information Minister Attaullah Tarar also acknowledged that X was indeed suspended in Pakistan. He said “There was no official notification for it. But obviously, everyone can see that its frequency and signal are not functioning normally, and it is being accessed through VPNs. This is indeed true.”


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