Internet services were reportedly suspended in parts of Pakistan following the arrest of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan Tuesday evening. As a result, leading social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube became inaccessible to a large number of users.
Reports started emerging of connectivity issues, including slow internet speed and frequent disruptions, shortly after Khan was arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case from the Islamabad High Court (IHC). His arrest swept a wave of strong reaction from PTI supporters across the country, who gathered in major cities — including Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi — to protest against their leader’s detention.
As reports of connectivity disruptions started circulating, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) confirmed that it had suspended mobile broadband services across the country on the interior ministry’s directives, according to Dawn.com. The move elicited a strong response from various digital rights activists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.
“Amid concerns about escalating clashes between Imran Khan’s supporters and the police, Amnesty International is alarmed by reports that Pakistani authorities have suspended mobile internet and access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube,” Amnesty International tweeted. “This restricts people’s access to information and freedom of expression.”
According to official reports and complaints from users, access to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter was blocked in various parts of the country, and all three leading social media platforms remained inaccessible at the time of writing this report. NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet disruptions, confirmed connectivity blackouts on several internet service providers in Pakistan, suggesting “total internet shutdowns in some regions”.
“In addition to social media restrictions, real-time network data show that total internet shutdowns are now in effect in some regions of Pakistan; the disruptions have been imposed amid the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan,” reads NetBlocks’ tweet as carried in their report.
The organisation added that fixed-line broadband disruptions can be worked around by using a VPN (virtual private network), but cellular internet suspensions cannot be bypassed with VPNs and will be “experienced as a total internet shutdown”.
“NetBlocks recommends against the use of network disruptions and social media restrictions to limit political speech, given their disproportionate impact to fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom assembly.”