Pakistan's flag
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Pakistan's internet disrupted during virtual election rally

Popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, X and YouTube, were inaccessible for parts of the weekend in Pakistan, which is gearing up for a general election next month.

Pakistan’s telecommunication authority blamed the nationwide internet disruptions, which lasted for several hours on Saturday evening, on a “technical failure” and said that the internet was restored as soon as the issue was fixed.

Local media, however, reported that the issue was more political and supposedly intended to disrupt a virtual rally held by the party of the jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan ahead of the general elections in February. The internet disruptions in Pakistan started before the live stream of the event, so many users were unable to participate.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has experienced internet disruptions ahead of online campaign events organized by Khan's party, also known as PTI — similar outages occurred at the beginning of January and in December.

PTI acknowledged the latest outage, calling it “desperate tactics” deployed by the sitting government. The party recommended that Pakistani users use a virtual private network (VPN) to access blocked social media platforms, and managed to host a part of the online event on YouTube with over 7,000 participants.

“No amount of oppression can quash the passion and will of the people!” the party said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Alp Toker, the director of the internet monitoring firm NetBlocks, told Agence France Presse that the outage was "remarkably systematic" and "consistent with previous restrictions imposed during PTI events." One of Pakistan’s internet providers, Nayatel, told customers in an audio message that it was acting on the instructions of Pakistani authorities, as reported by Bloomberg.

A Pakistani court sentenced Khan in August to three years in jail in a corruption case, accusing him of allegedly selling state gifts. He is the country's seventh former prime minister to be arrested before completing a five-year tenure.

Khan has denied any wrongdoing, blaming the country's military elites for forcing him out of office. Khan’s name was banned from the media, while thousands of PTI workers have been arrested in recent months.

Khan has been prevented from conducting in-person campaigning — making online appearances essential.

Russia, Iran, Belarus, and Cuba have taken social networks offline or shut off communication infrastructure in response to recent protests or opposition.

The digital rights organization Access Now called the internet shutdowns in Pakistan “problematic,” especially when they occur just before the polls. “Authorities in Pakistan must uphold the people’s mandate,” the organization said.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.