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Business Community & Civil Society Joint Statement On Internet Outage In Pakistan

We, 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 on 9th May 2023 amid the political conflict.

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 the principle of necessity and proportionality as well as procedural fairness and transparency.

Government’s blocking or hindering Internet connectivity like blanket shutdowns undermines constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms, including access to critical information during conflict, the right to peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression that form the basis of a democratic society.

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.

Impact of Internet disruptions

Such Internet disruptions have a very negative impact on Pakistani startups, which attracted more than $700 million in investment during 2022 and 2023 and are playing a critical role in promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, and digitization across the economy. The affectees also include the hundreds and thousands of freelancers and digital creators. In addition, Pakistan earned around $2 Billion in IT exports during 2022, a critical source of funding for a country that is struggling to meet its foreign exchange needs.

Government of Pakistan Should Lift Restrictions

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 recognise Internet access as a basic fundamental right which can’t be taken away arbitrarily. This was recognised 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.

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