Pakistan on Thursday suspended mobile phone and data services across the country in the run-up to election day, a move that digital rights groups said was “inherently undemocratic”.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that “precious lives have been lost” in recent extremist attacks and that “security measures are essential to maintain a law and order situation and deal with potential threats.”
In an attack claimed by the Islamic State group, two bombs exploded outside candidate offices on Wednesday, killing at least 28 people and two candidates shot dead ahead of voting. Ta.
Nighat Dad, a lawyer who runs the nonprofit Digital Rights Foundation, said the outage was “an attack on the democratic rights of Pakistanis.”
“Turning off cell phone service is not a solution to national security concerns. Cutting off access to information creates further chaos. If there was an attack, how would (someone) know?” Should I make a phone call?”
She added that there is more room for disinformation to spread, including reports of unconfirmed attacks.
“If people can’t confirm rumors about an attack in their area, they will naturally put their own safety first,” he said, noting that such misinformation could deter voters from voting. did.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the family-owned Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has called on the government to restore services and said his party’s lawyers will challenge the decision in court.
Voters in Pakistan are using text messaging services to check which polling station they are registered to vote.
Global internet watchdog NetBlocks said the data confirmed there was an outage to mobile phone and internet services, “confirming widespread user reports of outages.”
“Pakistan’s ongoing election-day internet outage is one of the largest in any country we have observed in terms of severity and scope,” Netblox director Arup Tokar told AFP. Told.
“This practice is inherently undemocratic, limits the activities of independent election observers, and is known to cause fraud in the voting process.”
~ “Forces concerned about PTI” ~
The election has already been marred by allegations of pre-voting fraud, with pollsters predicting low turnout following former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s imprisonment and the weak performance of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. I predict that.
“Election Day got off to an inauspicious start,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
“Given the steps they took immediately after voting began, it is clear that the forces remain concerned about the impact the PTI may have on the election, especially the potential turnout,” he said. .
Cellphone service was uninterrupted in 2018, but analysts said there were greater security concerns after bombings at election rallies killed more than 140 people.
On the day of the election, more than 30 people were killed in an explosion in Quetta claimed by an Islamic State affiliate.
Pakistani authorities routinely block access to mobile phones during large protests and festivals, when religious tensions are high, to prevent extremists from communicating with each other.
Jammers are also used to prevent bombs from being activated via mobile phones.
Internet and social media access was interrupted several times during the election period, coinciding with the opposition’s online live streams.
The government blamed the power outage on “technical problems,” but the PTI party claimed it was an attempt to disrupt an election campaign that had already been largely withdrawn.
PTI Information Director Raof Hasan told AFP that the power outage “impedes the work that activists are doing on the ground to bring people to the polling stations.”
“The physical space given to us is completely cut off, so we are completely dependent on connectivity over the internet,” he said.