Despite the information blackout, economic losses, and losses to daily wage workers, there is no hint that limitations are being loosened.
In the last three days, Mohammed Faisal, a food delivery man in Karachi, has lost 6,000 rupees ($20).
The 26-year-old uses the WhatsApp chat app to place his food orders and to track their whereabouts.
In Pakistan’s biggest and most populous metropolis, he travels the major thoroughfares, congested suburbs, and small streets on his trusted motorcycle and a smartphone with mobile broadband internet.
Mobile internet access has been stopped nationwide ever since Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was taken into custody three days ago.
On Thursday, Khan was given the go-ahead to be released after the nation’s highest court ruled that his arrest was unlawful. The suspension of mobile broadband service was not removed, nevertheless.
During a protest over the former prime minister Imran Khan’s detention by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party members and supporters in Lahore on May 11, 2023, commuters pass a burning car. [AFP/Arif ALI]
Without internet connectivity while he is on the go, Faisal’s employment has all but ceased in a city where street names and house numbers are rarely utilised for navigation.
He told Al Jazeera, “I can’t get orders because mobile data isn’t working,” and added that he wastes gasoline trying to find places without navigation software.
Security personnel have prevented
no information available
The government’s move to halt mobile broadband and prohibit access to social media applications has a direct impact on about 125 million people.
During a period of significant political turmoil, Mohammad Fayyaz, who lives in a hamlet in the eastern province of Punjab, feels isolated from the rest of the nation.
“We use YouTube to watch the news, but with most social media apps being restricted since Tuesday, we feel disconnected from the events taking place in Islamabad or Lahore,” he told Al Jazeera from his village, Maanga, which is located 255 kilometres (158 miles) east of the capital and where Khan was abducted by paramilitary forces on Tuesday.
When demonstrations erupted after Khan’s detention, the interior ministry gave the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the order to halt mobile broadband service, a PTA spokeswoman told Al Jazeera.
Although mobile users have complained that it is difficult to utilise social media applications like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, PTA spokesman Malahat Obaid disputed that the telecom body had restricted the apps.
“These apps are still working, but on throttle, so you can’t say they are blocked,” she added, referring to a tactic used by internet service providers to limit internet speed without notifying consumers.
According to a report by Open Observatory, a worldwide open data repository that tracks internet censorship, service providers on Tuesday night blocked access to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter while users were
Rights groups have slammed the lockdown and urged the Pakistani government to relax the restrictions.
Free speech, peaceful assembly, and the application of the law, according to Volker Turk, High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, are essential for settling political disagreements.
It was described as a “sweeping measure” by Human Rights Watch, who also said that it prevents journalists from uploading images and videos showing instances of government abuse and overreach while denying the general public access to information that might save their lives.
Increased VPN usage
Pakistani mobile consumers are familiar with limitations on applications and internet services. After nationwide demonstrations were sparked by YouTube’s broadcasting of an anti-Islam film in 2013, the website was shut down. The restriction was removed after three years, but in the following years, following significant demonstrations, the government has instituted unannounced shutdowns.
Following Tuesday’s closure, Twitter users flocked to the social media site to offer creative workarounds and compare notes on the best VPN providers.
“The day [Tuesday] finished with VPN demand being 1,329 percent higher than the 28-day average prior to the social media blocks,” says Simon Migliano of Top10VPN, a website that ranks and reviews VPN services.
Hit by a weak economy
The closure has affected several commercial sectors throughout the cash-strapped nation, in addition to generating an information blackout and limiting contact, while it waits for assistance 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 drastically – down by 36 percent – since May 9,” said Hassan Khan, the CEO of Trax, which claims to have the third highest e-commerce fulfilment share in Pakistan.
According to reports in Pakistani media, the telecom industry has lost $2.85 million since Tuesday, while the government has lost close to $1 million in tax income.
The IT sector in Pakistan, as represented by P@sha, is expected to lose at least $3m each day until the limitations are repealed.
A group of venture capital firms that specialise in startups and the digital economy released a statement on Thursday claiming that the limitations and suspension of mobile internet will “add to negative investor perceptions” and that the Pakistani government must take immediate steps to abolish the restrictions.
The suspension of mobile internet and social media services breaches Pakistani law, according to Nighat Dad, a lawyer and advocate for digital rights in Pakistan.
She urged the government to make a decision “with proportionality, mention its legitimate aim, and be very transparent around these shutdowns” since the prohibition “violates Article 19 A of the Constitution and [people’s] freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Constitution.”
The telecommunications body that enforced the nationwide suspension of mobile broadband, however, did not specify when the 125 million mobile broadband customers in the nation will be able to resume using the service.
As we follow the interior ministry’s instructions, we are unable to specify when the suspension would be removed, according to PTA’s Obaid.