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Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says

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Pakistan's interior ministry said on Wednesday it had blocked access to social media platform X around the time of February's election on national security concerns, confirming a long-suspected shutdown.

X' logo is seen on the top of the headquarters of the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S., July 30, 2023. Reuters/Carlos Barria

Pakistan's interior ministry said on Wednesday it had blocked access to social media platform X around the time of February's election on national security concerns, confirming a long-suspected shutdown.

Users in Pakistan have reported problems using X, formerly known as Twitter, since mid-February, but the government had made no official announcement on the matter until now.

The interior ministry mentioned the shutdown in a written submission to Islamabad High Court on Wednesday. Another court has told the government to reconsider the ban within a week, said Abdul Moiz Jafri, a petitioner and advocate.

"It is very pertinent to mention here that the failure of Twitter/X to adhere to the lawful directives of the government of Pakistan and address concerns regarding the misuse of its platform necessitated the imposition of a ban," the ministry said in its court submission, which was seen by Reuters.

It said X had been reluctant to resolve the issue. X did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Wednesday.

"The decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation," the ministry report said.

Access to X has remained limited since the Feb. 8 national election, which the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan says was rigged.

KHAN'S PARTY IS BIG USER OF X

Among Pakistan's political parties, Khan's party is the most prolific user of social media platforms, particularly after the country's traditional media began censoring news about the ex-cricket star and his party ahead of the polls. Khan has over 20 million followers on X, making him the most followed Pakistani.

Khan says Pakistan's military was behind his ouster as prime minister in 2022 and that it helped his opponents form the current government, despite candidates backed by his party winning most seats in February's election. The military denies this charge.

He remains in jail on a number of convictions, most of which came days before the election.

Many government officials in Pakistan, notably Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, continue to use X - most likely through VPN software that bypasses the blocks.

The decision to temporarily block X was taken after considering confidential reports from Pakistan's intelligence and security agencies, the ministry report said.

It said "hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy".

Rights groups and marketing advertisers have raised concerns.

Digital rights activist Usama Khilji said the block on X seemed designed to hinder the democratic accountability which he said a platform with instant updates of real-time information enables, especially amid the allegations and evidence of rigging which surfaced following the election.

Marketing consultant Saif Ali said: "It has become nearly impossible to convince Pakistani advertisers to invest in Twitter for brand communications, due to the platform being throttled by governmental authorities."

By Asif Shahzad

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