Sunday, May 9

Pakistan temporarily blocks access to social media after anti-French protests

Pakistan has briefly blocked access to all social media platforms, after days of anti-French protests.

in a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the Interior Ministry said it would restrict all social media and messaging platforms for 4 hours on Friday.

The ministry said the measure was taken “to maintain public order and security” and did not elaborate.

Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok, and Telegram were restricted from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. local time. Telecom operators initially said that no fixed schedule had been given for restoring the data.

As a result, the hashtags #SocialMediaBanInPakistan and #blocked were widely shared in the country, before access to social media apps was restored.

The blockade comes just a day after the French embassy in Pakistan advised French citizens and businesses to temporarily leave the country due to “serious threats” to French interests.

In recent days there have been violent protests in Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan’s two largest cities, as well as in the northern capital, Islamabad.

The demonstrations have been instigated by a radical Islamist party, which is demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from the country.

Anti-French sentiments have intensified in Pakistan since French President Emmanuel Macron defended cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the name of freedom of expression.

Islam strictly prohibits any description of Mohammed and Macron’s comments earlier led to calls for a boycott of French products in Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

Security has been tightened at the French embassy in Islamabad as police officers prepared to clear large demonstrations on Friday, organized by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan (TLP) party.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has tried unsuccessfully for several years to control the TLP, which has repeatedly blocked much of the country.

Khan tweeted that four policemen were killed and more than 600 injured in the violence.

“I want to pay a special tribute to our police force for its heroic stand against organized violence aimed at creating chaos to blackmail [the] government, “he added.

Three protesters have also died in clashes with security agencies.

On Wednesday, Pakistan declared that the party would now be banned, labeling it a terrorist group and detained leader Saad Rizvi.

Later, the government published a handwritten letter, claiming to be from Rizvi, urging his followers to withdraw in an effort to defuse tensions.

The decision to block social media may have been intended to prevent online calls for more demonstrations after Rizvi’s arrest.

Political parties frequently use social media to mobilize activists and Friday’s demonstrations were to take place after Friday prayers, which draw large crowds to mosques.

Pakistani authorities regularly cut mobile phone service and block social media to prevent mass protests.

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