Over a hundred prominent members of the Pakistani business community, tech entrepreneurs, and civil society have come forward and condemned the ongoing use of partial and complete internet shutdowns, as well as targeted content and App blocking, following the recent nationwide protests.
In a statement, the signatories which include founders, CEOs, and other high-profile professionals associated with some of the top technology companies and several other organizations, said that such shutdowns and blocking of internet services unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression.
The statement said that the blocking or hindering of internet connectivity like blanket shutdowns by the government 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.
Tens of millions of Pakistanis rely on internet-dependent services to connect and 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, it added.
The statement called on the federal government to immediately lift restrictions intended to disrupt or prevent 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),” the statement said.
The statement urged the government to recognize internet access as a basic fundamental right that 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,” the statement concluded.