Rights Activists, Civil Society Express Concerns Over Arbitrary Blocking Of Social Media Platforms

New government, other public entities were urged to repeal Section 37 of PECA, deeming such legislation an enabler of digital censorship and violative of Article 19

Rights Activists, Civil Society Express Concerns Over Arbitrary Blocking Of Social Media Platforms

With a nationwide intermittent block on the social media platform 'X' extending deep into its fourth week, as many as 40 civil society organisations and rights activists have come together to express concern over the arbitrary ban and have demanded greater transparency from the telecommunication authorities on reasons for the prolonged disruption.

In a joint statement, the rights activists pointed to the frequent internet shutdowns, throttling, and blocking of social media platforms in the weeks leading up to the February 8 general elections. The near blanket suspension of mobile telephony and internet services on election day and the targeted blocks since the elections have served to silence diverse political voices and contribute to the spread of misinformation.

"These actions not only infringe upon the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information but also set a troubling precedent of throttling genuine political discourse in the country," the statement read.

They pointed to the utility of universal access to the Internet and social media platforms for an "informed society and fair electoral processes."

The statement also raised alarm at the complete silence on the move from the relevant regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), amidst silence from officials of the outgoing caretaker government and the incoming government.

The statement added, "The absence of transparency in the decision-making processes surrounding network shutdowns and platform blocking and complete disregard for any accountability has resulted in an obvious erosion of trust between the state and its citizens."

The CSOs and rights activists expressed disappointment over reports how, instead of providing an explanation for the need to block wholesale an entire social media platform, the authorities were also blocking virtual private networks (VPNs), which undermines public's right to access information and privacy online.

The joint statement urged the new government and other public entities to repeal Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, deeming such legislation an enabler of digital censorship and a violation of Article 19 (Freedom of Speech and Right to Information) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The new government was urged to abide by Pakistan's commitments to uphold freedom of expression and the right to access information under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

"We urge the incoming government, regulators and other public bodies to recognise that any action that affects the flow of information and limits citizen's ability to express themselves, has a direct and lingering impact on citizen's human rights including the right to political participation," the statement says.