The Interior Ministry of Pakistan directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday to temporarily block access to social media sites – WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram – to “maintain public order.” The said social media sites were down from 11am to 3pm throughout the country.
According to the details, the PTA – government media watchdog in Pakistan – temporarily blocked access to all prominent social media sites on Friday. Shortly after the blockage, the PTA released a statement, saying: “In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications has been restricted temporarily.”
“It is requested that immediate action may be taken on the subject matter,” the Interior Ministry directed the PTA chairman on the issue.
Shortly after 3pm, the access to social media was partially restored. The PTA confirmed the news in a press release, saying: “Access to social media applications has been restored.”
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed apologized for the suspension of social media in a video message, promising that access to the social media will not be restricted in the future. He said that social media was blocked because the TLP had called on its activists to come out on the streets after the Friday prayers. He said that due to the government’s efforts, “the terrorists, agitators and those spreading unrest through social media have been defeated”.
The suspension came in the wake of the country-wide protests by the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan which paralyzed major cities of the country and disrupted the day-to-day activities of life. The law enforcement agencies were deployed in great numbers to quell the uprising. Two policemen were reportedly killed in the protests and more than 600 were wounded. The government reacted to the protests by banning the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a move that many have criticized as being shortsighted.
In a hand-written note, the detained TLP leader Saad Rizvi directed his followers to end the violent protests and return to their homes. But the protestors were not convinced – they claim that the government has forged the note in an attempt to put an end to the protests.
The protestors not only demand the release of the detained TLP leader, but also demand that the government expel the French ambassador from Pakistan and boycott all French products. Earlier this year, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan had organized similar country-wide anti-French comments after the French Premier Emmanual Macron defended the publication of the controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and called Islam a “religion in crisis.”
In the wake of the recent violent protests, the French embassy in Pakistan directed its nationals in Pakistan to temporarily leave the country. The embassy termed this measure “precautionary” and clarified that the embassy will continue to function as usual with a reduced staff.