The recent protests following the arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023, have led to partial and complete internet shutdowns, as well as targeted content and app blocking in Pakistan. Members of the Pakistani business community and civil society who have signed a petition on Change.org “Restore Internet to Restore Livelihoods“ have expressed their concerns about these measures, which they believe unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression. Such actions lack procedural fairness and transparency, and the signatories call for the Pakistani government to immediately lift restrictions intended to prevent citizens from accessing and disseminating information online and from communicating safely and securely.
Tens of millions of Pakistanis rely on the internet for essential business activities, healthcare, emergency services, and financial services. By blocking, filtering, or shutting down these services, the government is eroding civic space, fostering economic uncertainty and negatively impacting the Pakistani startups that attracted more than $300 million in investment during 2022. These startups play a critical role in promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, and digitization across the economy. In addition, Pakistan earned $2 billion in IT exports during 2022, which is a critical source of funding for a country struggling to meet its foreign exchange needs.
The petitioners also call on the Pakistani authorities to recognize internet access as a basic fundamental right which cannot be taken away arbitrarily, and respect Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, including under articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The United Nations recognized internet access as a basic fundamental right in 2011 when the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stated that all member states have an obligation to ensure unrestricted access to the internet. The petitioners believe that only when the issue of internet access is understood as one of fundamental human rights can measures be taken to ensure access on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
Internet shutdowns, content and app blocking in Pakistan have led to concerns among members of the Pakistani business community and civil society. They believe that such actions unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, erode civic space, and negatively impact the Pakistani startups that play a critical role in promoting entrepreneurship, job creation, and digitization across the economy.
The petitioners call on the Pakistani government to immediately lift these restrictions, recognize internet access as a basic fundamental right and respect Pakistan’s international human rights obligations.