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Pakistan unblocks WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook after 4hrs

Step taken day after TLP banned, to avert protests

SAMAA | - Posted: Apr 16, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 months ago
Posted: Apr 16, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 months ago

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, popular social media sites, for four hours across the country Friday morning. Services were restored by about 3pm after Jummah prayers.

The temporary ban was imposed on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Telegram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and YouTube. The government said they would resume working at 3pm.

The decision has been taken to maintain the law and order situation in the country.

The PTA took the step on the instructions of the Ministry of Interior. In a letter, it said that "complete access to social media platforms" should be suspended from 11am to 3pm.

The step comes a day after Pakistan imposed a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. PEMRA even blocked all TV channels from providing any coverage to the banned organisation.

The authorities have in the past suspended mobile phone and internet services in the areas where the party protesters had gathered in Islamabad and parts of Punjab. This is the first time a ban has been imposed on all social media sites across the country.

Pakistan had imposed a ban on YouTube for three years in the past.

How is the internet blocked in Pakistan?

Pakistan is connected with the cyberworld through five undersea cables, of which three are owned and operated by PTCL and the other two by Transworld.

When PTA, the telecom sector's watchdog, wants to block websites, apps, and URLs (web addresses), it instructs all internet service providers in the country to block them and report compliance.

Since PTCL and Transworld are the only two gateway (wholesale) internet providers in Pakistan, when they block a particular website it is likely that it will be blocked across the country. However, each and every internet service provider has to block the same website on their network as well to ensure all the addresses linked to that particular website are blocked.

Pakistan bans TLP

The Ministry of Interior said in its notification that the government has reasonable grounds to believe that the TLP “engaged in terrorism, acted in a manner prejudicial to the peace and security of the country”. The group “intimidated the public, caused grievous bodily harm, hurt and death to the personnel of law enforcement agencies and innocent bystanders”, it said.

The party has been proscribed under section 11B (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. It empowers the government to ban an organisation involved in terrorism.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed announced that Pakistan has decided to ban the religious party. A summary of the order was approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan later in the day. According to it, the religious group damaged 30 vehicles of law enforcement agencies, while two police officers were killed in violent protests across Punjab.

Protests in major cities across Pakistan erupted on April 12 after TLP workers took to the streets. They were protesting against the arrest of their chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. Main roads in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and other cities were blocked following his arrest, and people were stuck in traffic for hours.

tlp protest
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party shout slogans during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore on April 13, 2021. Photo: AFP

After continuing for two days, an operation to disperse the protesters began on Wednesday. After a joint operation by the police and Rangers, roads have been cleared.

So far, at least 115 FIRs have been registered and 2,063 workers arrested. In Punjab, 1669 workers were arrested, 228 in Sindh, 193 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 43 in Islamabad, the summary added.

Shahbaz Gill shares Saad Rizvi's letter

Shahbaz Gill, the special assistant to PM on information, shared Thursday night a letter written by Saad Rizvi.

Rizvi, in the letter, requested party members and workers to end their sit-in and go back to their homes in the interest of the country. He asked them to not take any illegal action, adding that he is not under duress.

What kind of a party is the TLP?

Before the TLP, Pakistan had two Barelvi political groups: the Sunni Tehreek and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. (Barelvi as opposed to Deoband). None of them was mainstream, explains Sabookh Syed, an Islamabad-based analyst who monitors such groups. “The JUP and Sunni Tehreek never fielded candidates all over the country but the TLP did in the last election.”

Read: The TLP’s rise to power explained

There is only one man who deserves credit for making TLP mainstream and that was Allama Rizvi, said Syed. Of course, every religious group tried to erect Mumtaz Qadri as their symbol but they all failed where Rizvi succeeded. “He had a charismatic personality and an aggressive unique style of delivering sermons that made him the centre of attraction.”

Syed said in his opinion it would be an uphill task for his son to mimic such style and aggression and the party could lose support in the next elections.

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