On May 9, 2023, internet services in Pakistan were disrupted for an “indefinite period” after the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. In response, the business community and civil society of Pakistan have come forward to condemn these internet disruptions, stating that they undermine constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms.
The impact of internet shutdowns on constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms
According to a statement released by the business community and civil society, such shutdowns limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, especially when they lack the principle of necessity and proportionality, procedural fairness and transparency. The statement highlights that millions of Pakistanis rely on the internet for essential business activities and that by blocking, filtering or shutting down these services, the government is eroding civic space and disrupting access to healthcare, emergency services and financial services.
Negative impact on Pakistani startups
The statement also notes that internet disruptions have a negative impact on Pakistani startups. The hundreds and thousands of freelancers and digital creators are affected by these shutdowns. Moreover, Pakistan earned around $2 billion in IT exports during 2022, which is a critical source of funding for a country that is struggling to meet its foreign exchange needs. The FY2022-23 target set by the PM and IT Minister is $5 billion.
The call to lift restrictions on internet services
The business community and civil society have requested the government to lift the restrictions and refrain from imposing partial or complete internet shutdowns. The statement emphasizes that understanding the issue of internet access as one of fundamental human rights is necessary to ensure access on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
The directives to block mobile broadband services
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued directives to block mobile broadband services after the protests erupted following Imran Khan’s arrest from the Islamabad High Court premises in the Al-Qadir Trust case. Major social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, were also reportedly down for many users in Pakistan as they were unable to access these platforms.