Pakistan temporarily blocks social media fearing Islamist unrest

Islamabad, Apr 16 (EFE).- Pakistan on Friday blocked social networks and messaging apps fearing further unrest by Islamists after the weekly Friday prayers, following a week of violent protests against France for backing controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

“The decision is taken to maintain law and order during the Friday prayer time,” Arsalan Khalid, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on digital media, told EFE.

Khalid said that the social platforms have been used by “certain elements” to provoke and create law and order problems, without directly referring to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Islamist party behind the major protests in recent days.

An order by the interior ministry urged the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to “completely” block Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube and Telegram between 11 am and 3 pm on Friday.

These services will continue to be accessible by virtual private networks (VPNs).

The clampdown on social media was not received well by digital rights activists.

“What kind of national emergency are we dealing with that the government (has) banned the entire social media temporarily? These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good,” tweeted Nighat Dad, an activist with the Digital Rights Foundation.

The measure comes after a week of protests that kicked off on Monday after the arrest of TLP leader Saad Rizvi for giving an ultimatum to the government for the expulsion of the French ambassador and severing diplomatic ties with Paris.

After three days of violence across different cities in which at least three people were killed and 580 injured, the government managed to bring the situation under control on Thursday, the day when it banned the TLP.

The Islamists have demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador and called for New Delhi ending ties with Paris over French President Emmanuel Macron’s allegedly “blasphemous” comments on Islam and his defense of the Muhammad cartoons, after a teacher in the European country was beheaded in October for showing the caricatures of the Prophet to his students

On Thursday France issued an advisory to its nationals to leave Pakistan citing “serious threats.” EFE


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