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Key Ally of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Demands End to Ban on X, Formerly Twitter

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Key Ally of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Demands End to Ban on X, Formerly Twitter

Two months after the ban went into effect, Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, publicly called for access to the social media platform to be restored.

Key Ally of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Demands End to Ban on X, Formerly Twitter
Credit: Depositphotos

An important ally of Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif demanded the government lift a two-month-old ban on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, saying on Friday that it violates citizens’ right to speech and expression.

The ban on X has been in place since mid-February, when the party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a nationwide protest against alleged election rigging following the February 8 vote that allowed Sharif to come to power.

“We demand that the ban on X, which is known as Twitter, should immediately be lifted by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to stop any further violation of human rights,” said Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. The PPP is an important member of the coalition that allowed Sharif to form a government in March.

Babar is known as a defender of human rights who’s taken stands on civil rights and the protection of minorities during a three-decade career in politics.

Sharif’s government offered conflicting justifications for the ban in public statements before telling an Islamabad court that the decision to impose it had been made “in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order and preserving the integrity of the nation.”

According to the Pakistani daily Dawn, in its court submission, the Interior Ministry claimed that the “lack of cooperation from Twitter/X authorities in addressing content that violates Pakistani laws and values further justifies the need for regulatory measures, including the temporary ban.”

The High Court in Sindh asked the government to reverse the ban on Wednesday after petitions from human rights defenders. The same court had previously ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to restore access to X, but the decision went unenforced. Its new ruling gave a one-week deadline for the ban to be lifted.

Millions of people use X in Pakistan, and Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party relies on it especially heavily. The PTI says the restrictions were meant to suppress its voice on social media.

Many people have been using VPN software to bypass the government’s block on X, and access to the platform has been intermittently restored, but human rights activists want a total end to the ban.

Babar made his comments a day after X said that it was in contact with Pakistan. The company’s Global Government Affairs department posted a short statement saying, “We continue to work with the Pakistani Government to understand their concerns.”

Pakistan has said that social media is being used to defame the country’s institutions, a phrase that is often used to refer to the military and judiciary. Both have come under criticism from Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.

Babar said there was a perception that such institutions were behind the ban.

“There are certain powerful forces in Pakistan, and you know there is a perception here that these forces are sitting in the driving seat and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is in the back seat, and we request the prime minister to dispel this impression by lifting the ban on X with whatever power he has now,” Babar told the Associated Press.

Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.