It Ruined My Livelihood: Pakistan’s Internet Shutdown Affects Millions

Mohammed Faisal, a food delivery boy in Karachi, has lost 6,000 rupees ($20) in the past three days.

The 26-year-old relies on the WhatsApp messaging service to receive and track the locations of his food orders.

He uses his trusty motorbike and a smartphone with mobile broadband internet to navigate the main roads, narrow streets and densely populated neighborhoods of Pakistan’s largest and most populous city.

Since the arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan three days ago, mobile internet services remain suspended across the country.

Khan was ordered to be released on Thursday after the country’s supreme court ruled his arrest illegal. However, the mobile broadband shutdown has not been lifted.

Commuters walk past a burning vehicle during a protest by Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan over his arrest, in Lahore, May 11, 2023 [Arif ALI/ AFP]

In a metropolis where street names and house numbers are rarely used for navigation, Faisal’s work has come to a near halt without internet access when he travels.

I can’t take orders because mobile data isn’t working, he told Al Jazeera, adding that he incurs fuel waste while trying to locate addresses without a navigation app.

Security forces blocked several roads and intersections in major cities in an attempt to deter protesters.

Roadblocks and data disruption have ruined my livelihood, Faisal said.

Information blackout

Nearly 125 million people have been affected by the government’s decision to shut down mobile broadband and block access to social media apps.

Mohammad Fayyaz, who lives in a village in the eastern province of Punjab, feels cut off from the rest of the country during a time of great political upheaval.

We use YouTube to watch the news, but with most social media apps restricted since Tuesday, we feel disconnected from events taking place in Islamabad or Lahore, he told Al Jazeera from his village, Maanga, 255km (158 miles ) east of the capital where Khan was taken away by paramilitary forces on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) told Al Jazeera it had received an order from the Interior Ministry to suspend mobile broadband service as protests erupted after Khan’s arrest.

While mobile users reported difficulties using social apps including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, PTA spokesman Malahat Obaid denied that the apps were blocked by the telecoms authority.

These apps still work, but at full capacity, so it can’t be said that they are blocked, he said, referring to a practice used by Internet service providers to limit Internet speeds without informing users.

A report by the Open Observatory, a global open data resource that monitors Internet censorship, shows YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were restricted by service providers on Tuesday evening, while users were unable to access Instagram after Wednesday morning.

global condemnation

The closure has been criticized by rights organizations, who have called on the Pakistani government to lift the restrictions.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the rule of law were key to resolving political conflicts.

Human Rights Watch called it a sweeping measure, which it said denies ordinary people access to life-saving information, interferes with access to health care, and limits journalists’ ability to upload photos and videos documenting the excesses and government abuses.

Sharp increase in VPN usage

Mobile users in Pakistan are no strangers to restrictions on internet services and apps. In 2013, YouTube was banned after video streaming services hosting an anti-Islam film led to protests across the country. The ban was lifted after three years, but authorities have imposed unannounced closures in the wake of major protests in recent years.

As soon as the closure was reported on Tuesday, Twitter users took to the platform to share new ways to circumvent the ban and trade notes on the most useful VPN services.

The day [Tuesday] ended with VPN demand 1,329% higher than the average 28 days before the social media blocks, Simon Migliano of Top10VPN, a website that reviews and rates VPN services, told Al Jazeera.

Struck at the fragile economy

In addition to causing an information blackout and limiting communication, the shutdown also affected various business sectors across the cash-strapped country awaiting help from the International Monetary Fund in the form of a $1 billion bailout.

As a technology-driven logistics company, we have seen our sales volumes drop sharply by 36% since May 9, said Hassan Khan, CEO of Trax, which says it has the third largest e-commerce share in Pakistan .

Pakistani media reports say the telecom sector has suffered a $2.85 million loss since Tuesday, while the government has lost nearly $1 million in tax revenue.

P@sha, an association representing Pakistan’s IT sector, said the sector will lose at least $3 million a day until restrictions are lifted.

On Thursday, a group of venture capital firms focused on startups and the digital economy released a statement saying the restrictions and suspension of mobile broadband will add to negative perceptions from investors and that immediate action is needed from the Pakistani government to lift restrictions.

According to Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and digital rights activist, the shutdown of mobile broadband and social media services violates the Constitution of Pakistan.

The ban violates Article 19 A of the Constitution e [peoples] freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Constitution, he said, urging the government to take a decision with proportionality, mention its legitimate objective and be very transparent about these closures.

However, the telecommunications authority that enforced the general mobile broadband shutdown did not indicate when the country’s 125 million mobile broadband users will be able to use the service again.

We cannot confirm when the suspension will be lifted, as we are acting on orders from the interior ministry, the PTA’s Obaid said.

Additional reporting by Alia Chughtai.

#Ruined #Livelihood #Pakistans #Internet #Shutdown #Affects #Millions
Image Source :

Leave a Comment