Amnesty International calls Pak’s internet suspension on election day ‘blunt attack’ on freedom of expression

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Islamabad, Feb 8 (PTI) Amnesty International on Thursday described Pakistan’s decision to suspend mobile internet services throughout the day as the country held its general elections a “blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

In a statement, the UK-based international rights watchdog's South Asia office urged the Pakistan authorities to “urgently lift the blanket restrictions on access to the internet”.

Livia Saccardi, Interim Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International, said, “The decision to suspend telecommunications and mobile internet services on an election day is a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” She said it is reckless to impede access to information as people head out to polling stations on the heels of “devastating bomb blasts” and what has been an “intense crackdown on the opposition” in the lead-up to the elections. Saccardi said “unwarranted restrictions” on the dissemination of information are in breach of people’s human rights at this critical time in Pakistan.

“Blanket shutdowns impacts people’s mobility, livelihood and ability to navigate through a difficult time further undermining their trust in authorities. Amnesty International calls on the authorities of Pakistan to adopt a rights-respecting approach and urgently lift all blanket restrictions on access to the internet to enable people’s access to timely information and report on any election-related matter throughout the polling process,” she added.

Soon after the voting started, mobile services in Pakistan were suspended due to the "deteriorating security situation", a day after twin terror attacks killed at least 30 people.

On Thursday, four policemen on election duty were killed in a terror attack in Dera Ismail Khan. A security officer was also killed after gunmen opened fire at soldiers in the Tank area of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.

Pakistan had on Wednesday dismissed UN human rights body concerns about violence and the right to fundamental democratic freedom ahead of general elections in the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had earlier expressed concern over violent incidents ahead of the general elections. "We deplore all acts of violence against political parties and candidates, and urge the authorities to uphold the fundamental freedoms necessary for an inclusive and meaningful democratic process," spokesperson Liz Throssell said in a statement.

However, such claims were dismissed by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch who said Pakistan upholds the rule of law and protects the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by its laws and constitution. PTI GSP AKJ NPK NPK

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