US urges Pakistan to lift internet shutdowns, social media restrictions

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 2:05 PM

By Humeyra Pamuk and Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Wednesday condemned internet shutdowns in Pakistan, including restrictions on social media platforms, and urged the Pakistani government to lift such restrictions.

Internet monitoring advocates have pointed out internet outages and restrictions after protests following claims of election irregularities in Pakistan.

“We are concerned by any reports of restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan, including the partial or complete government-imposed internet shutdowns, which includes, of course, on social media platforms,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday.

Miller said that Washington called on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and “restore access to any social media that has been restricted, including Twitter.” He said the U.S. concerns had been communicated to Pakistan through official channels.

The Netblocks global internet monitor on Wednesday cited instances of restrictions. “Metrics show that X/Twitter remains largely restricted in Pakistan past the four-day mark; imposed on Saturday as disclosures relating to election fraud circulated on the platform,” Netblocks said.

Voters in Pakistan went to the polls earlier this month, in a vote marred by a mobile internet shutdown on election day and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged.

United States, Britain and the European Union have separately expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process in the wake of the elections.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)