ISLAMABAD ( Web News )
We, the undersigned members of the Pakistani business community and civil society, are deeply troubled by and condemn the recently reported and ongoing use of partial and complete Internet shutdowns, as well as targeted content and App blocking, following the nationwide protests over the arrest of former Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, from the Islamabad High Court premises on 11 May 2023.
Such shutdowns and blocking or filtering of Internet services unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, especially when such actions lack procedural fairness and transparency.
The Government should not block or hinder Internet connectivity, as shutdowns often undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression that form the basis of a democratic society.
Tens of millions of Pakistanis rely on Internet dependent services to connect with each other and to undertake essential business activities. By blocking, filtering, or shutting down these services, the Government is eroding civic space; fostering a climate of economic uncertainty and disrupting access to healthcare, emergency services and financial services.
Such Internet disruptions also have a very negative impact on the Pakistani startups, which attracted more than $300 million in investment during 2022 and are playing a critical role in promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, and digitization across the economy. In addition, Pakistan earned $2Billion in IT exports during 2022, a critical source of funding for a country that is struggling to meet its foreign exchange needs.
We emphatically call on the Government of Pakistan to immediately lift restrictions intended to disrupt or prevent the citizens from accessing and disseminating information online and from communicating safely and securely. Moving forward, we also call on the Pakistani authorities to refrain from imposing partial or complete Internet shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services and to respect Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, including under articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
We also urge the Government to recognize Internet access as a basic fundamental right which can’t be taken away arbitrarily. This was recognized by the United Nations as far back as 2011 when the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stated that all member states have an obligation to ensure unrestricted access to the Internet. It is only when we understand the issue of Internet access as one of fundamental human rights can we take measures to ensure access on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.