Blocking X: Did Suppression Ever Help?

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BASHIR ASSAD

The Pakistan authorities have blocked X in Balochistan, curtailing the freedom of the press and the voice of dissent. Human rights organisations have called upon the authorities to reverse the decision. It’s now to be seen what choice the authorities make, heavily influencing the future of democracy and human rights in the country.

IN a move that threatens press freedom and stifles the voice of dissent, Pakistan authorities have blocked X (formally as X) in the restive province of Balochistan. The decision has sparked widespread condemnation from journalists, human rights activists, and international observers, who decry the suppression of free speech in the region.

The blockage of X comes as part of a broader pattern of repressive measures aimed at curbing journalists’ ability to report freely and independently. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, has long been a hotbed of insurgency and unrest, with allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Pakistani military.

The autocratic history of the Pakistan army in curbing social media in Balochistan dates back to several years. The province has often been subject to internet shutdowns and censorship, with authorities citing national security concerns. However, critics argue that such measures are primarily aimed at silencing dissent and preventing the dissemination of information about human rights violations committed by the Pakistani military.

The decision to block X in Balochistan has drawn comparisons to similar actions taken by authoritarian regimes around the world to suppress dissent and control the flow of information. It reflects a worrying trend towards greater censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression in Pakistan, particularly in regions like Balochistan where the government control is tenuous.

The situation in Balochistan is compounded by the lack of transparency and accountability within the Pakistani military. The army has a long history of involvement in politics and governance, often at the expense of democratic institutions and civil liberties. Its heavy-handed approach in dealing with dissent in Balochistan has only exacerbated tensions and fuelled grievances among the local population.

Human rights organisations have called on Pakistan authorities to immediately reverse the decision to block X in Balochistan and uphold the principles of press freedom and freedom of expression. They argue that such measures not only violate international human rights standards but also undermine efforts to address the root causes of conflict and instability in the region.

The decision to block X in Balochistan is not an isolated incident but rather part of a broader crackdown on freedom of expression in Pakistan. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), there were over 1,000 instances of internet shutdowns in the country between 2012 and 2023. These shutdowns often coincided with political protests, military operations, or other events deemed sensitive by the authorities.

In Balochistan specifically, the internet shutdowns have been particularly frequent and prolonged. According to data from Access Now, an international advocacy group, Balochistan experienced over 100 internet shutdowns in 2023 alone, lasting a total of more than 500 days. These shutdowns not only disrupt communication and access to information but also have severe economic consequences for the region, which already faces high levels of poverty and underdevelopment.

The targeting of social media platforms like X is especially concerning given their role as a lifeline for journalists and activists operating in regions with limited media freedom. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pakistan ranks among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with at least 32 journalists killed in targetted attacks since 2010. The blocking of X further restricts the ability of journalists to report on sensitive issues and hold those in power, accountable.

Moreover, the decision to block X in Balochistan exacerbates existing inequalities in access to information and digital rights. According to the Digital Rights Foundation, an advocacy group based in Pakistan, internet penetration in Balochistan is significantly lower than the national average, with only 12% of the population having access to the internet. By depriving the people of Balochistan of access to social media platforms like X, the authorities are further marginalising the already marginalised communities and stifling their voices.

In the light of these statistics and the broader context of repression in Balochistan, the decision to block X appears to be a blatant attempt by the authorities to silence dissent and control the flow of information. It not only violates the rights of journalists and activists but also undermines efforts to address the root causes of conflict and instability in the region.

As pressure mounts on Pakistan to reverse this repressive measure, the fate of press freedom in Balochistan hangs in the balance, with profound implications for the future of democracy and human rights in the country.

As the world watches, the fate of press freedom in Balochistan hangs in the balance. Pakistan authorities must heed to the calls for accountability and transparency, and take immediate steps to restore access to X and other social media platforms in the region. Failure to do so will not only jeopardise the rights of journalists and activists but also risk fuelling further unrest and instability in this volatile region.

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