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Keepiton In Pakistan: Ensure Open And Secure Internet For All During The 2024 Elections

As Pakistan heads to the polls on 8 February, authorities must guarantee uninterrupted access to the internet and digital communication platforms for everyone across the country.

Through an open letter, Access Now, the #KeepItOn coalition, and organisations from around the globe are calling on the Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, and Chief Election Commissioner, Sikandar Sultan Raja, to ensure people across the country, including those in Balochistan, have full access to the internet and social media platforms for the upcoming elections.

“Access Now is alarmed by Balochistan authorities’ recent decision to suspend internet services in ‘sensitive areas’ citing ‘safety and security’ concerns,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “There is scant evidence that disrupting the internet stops bad actors. Instead, it impedes people’s access to verified information and essential services. Access to the internet is not a hindrance but an aid for people to cast an informed ballot.”

Pakistani authorities have already imposed multiple shutdowns that disrupted opposition activities during this election cycle. At least 11 internet shutdowns were imposed during the last election year of 2018, and the authoritarian use of shutdowns has only emboldened through 2022, 2023, and now 2024. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) statement, attributing an internet shutdown to ongoing system upgrades, which are likely to continue for the next “two to three months,” raises further red flags.

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“Shutdown impunity cannot be divorced from the wider democratic backsliding and political upheaval in Pakistan,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “The decision to impose internet restrictions in Balochistan, right after the Election Commission stated that no proposal for internet shutdowns on election day was under consideration, is a shocking example of this.”

The PTA must honour its commitment to ensure continuous internet services throughout the polls. Furthermore, authorities across Pakistan, including those in Balochistan, must uphold the Sindh High Court’s directive to provide uninterrupted internet service across the country throughout the elections.

“The caretaker government of Pakistan must ensure a free, fair, and inclusive election to ensure the people’s mandate is heard and adhered to, for which internet access is crucial,” said Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now. “The Election Commission must ensure that democracy is not compromised by using overbroad security concerns and upgrade related issues as justifications for rights-violating shutdowns.”

Transparency and accountability are essential as Pakistan prepares to form a representative government — this cannot be achieved if it leaves its people disconnected. Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition urge authorities to publicly commit to an open and secure internet to the people of Pakistan.

Read this media alert via the Access Now website.

Read the open letter.

© Scoop Media

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