Thursday, October 21, 2021 – The Ministry of Interior has directed Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to suspend internet services in parts of Lahore “for maintaining law and order situation” in the city. The notification dated October 20, directs PTA to block internet services, including mobile data, WiFi and fixed line DSL, in 6 areas of Lahore immediately until further notice.
The order comes as the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) resumed its protests in the city on Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi on Tuesday demanding the release of the son Saad Hussain Rizvi of TLP’s deceased leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Saad Rizvi was arrested by the Punjab government in April for maintaining law and order. Syed Afzaal Hussain Shah, a member of TLP’s Majlis-e-Shura (central executive), announced during the rally on Tuesday that a new series of protests will begin to demand the release of Saad Rizvi, whereas, various leaders of TLP in their speeches said that the government is using delaying tactics in his release.
The recent order of suspension of internet services in the vicinity of the protest comes as the Punjab police remain on high alert to control the possibility of escalation in political and security situations as a result.
The TLP is known to have staged prolonged sit-ins, crippling the access to the roads for days. In November 2017, the banned organisation blocked Faizabad Interchange near the capital city of Islamabad for 20 days to demand the resignation of the Minister of Law and Justice Zahid Hamid for suggesting a change of “oath” to declaration” in the Election Bill 2017. The TLP workers began violent protests across the country, leading to the government issuing orders for nationwide suspension of mobile services, social media and mainstream media channels. This suspension gave rise to the spread of misinformation through unverified news that led to chaos and confusion amongst people.
Asad Baig, co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy, an organisation working to defend digital rights and media freedoms in Pakistan, says, “Political instability is exactly when people need access to verified information, and blocking access to channels and services that provide credible information on the situation from the ground creates uncertainty which leaves room for misinformation and chaos to spread.” He adds, “It is, in these times, absolutely crucial to keep internet services undisrupted so news can be verified.”
Featured image by Shiza Nazir on Unsplash