Pakistan: X Platform Faces Week-Long Disruption Amid Election Rigging Claims

Pakistan's telecommunications authority refrained from providing a statement, while the interior ministry remained unresponsive to inquiries.

In Pakistan, the widespread disruption of the social media platform X entered its second week on Saturday, prompting concerns from digital rights advocates who cautioned that the outages were stifling dissent following a contentious election characterized by allegations of manipulation.

The platform, previously recognized as Twitter, experienced a shutdown last Saturday following a public acknowledgment by a senior government official regarding vote tampering in the February 8 election. Throughout the past week, its accessibility has been sporadic, with availability contingent on the internet service provider.

Alp Toker, representing the NetBlocks web monitoring organization, expressed that Pakistan's deliberate implementation of network shutdowns and limitations to target political entities and the reporting of electoral malpractices were unparalleled.

According to reports from AFP correspondents, X remained unavailable in major urban centers such as Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi on Saturday. Despite requests for comment, the Pakistani telecommunications authority and interior ministry chose not to respond.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, under the leadership of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan, called for widespread protests in response to the admission of vote manipulation. Bytes for All, a web monitoring group, highlighted the significance of X for political expression, access to information, and online assembly.

The disruption has impeded citizens' engagement in online discourse, the sharing of information, and the expression of dissenting viewpoints, as indicated in a report released by the organization on Friday.

In the lead-up to the election, PTI encountered restrictions on canvassing and compelled candidates to run independently. Consequently, its campaign predominantly relied on online platforms, where social media activities were frequently disrupted by nationwide blackouts affecting X, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube.

The government attributed these outages to "technical challenges." Despite the constraints, PTI-affiliated candidates secured a greater number of seats than any other party. However, the party has been reluctant to form alliances with competitors, leading to the possibility of the military-supported Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) assuming governance.

On election day, mobile internet services were suspended nationwide, with the interior ministry citing security concerns. This blackout, coupled with substantial delays in announcing voting outcomes, fueled accusations of electoral manipulation.

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