KARACHI: Internet freedom groups and activists have expressed anger and disbelief at the Sindh government’s proposal to ban messaging apps including Skype, Viber and WhatsApp for three months as a security measure.
In a press statement, Bolo Bhi an internet freedom group condemned the proposal, stating that “this is a violation of fundamental rights of citizens and an acceptance from the government that they have failed to uphold law and order by resorting to ad hoc measuring and disrupting communications. Access should not be a victim to national security.”
The government should focus on eliminating terrorism in the province and improving the law and order situation instead of taking away freedom from citizens, Bolo Bhi said.
The President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES as well as the president of Bolo Bhi Jehan Ara expressed her frustration on Twitter:
She further added:
Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director, Nighat Dad also criticised the proposal:
On Thursday The Sindh government decided to ban instant messaging and voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) clients Skype, Viber and other communication networks, including Tango and WhatsApp citing security reasons.
The decision was taken during a meeting between Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and other officials including the additional IG Karachi, DG Rangers and representatives of intelligence agencies.
The same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the federal government had taken no decision on the Sindh government’s stance of banning Skype, Viber and other communication services in Sindh for three months.
The interior minister while condemning the ban said that he was against the move.
“I will go through the Sindh government’s application in favour of the ban to see how much weight it carries,” he added.
This is not the first time communication has been blocked citing security reasons. In the past year alone, the government blocked cellular services over a dozen times.
There was outrage on Twitter following the announcement, although PPP members defended the proposal. PPP Patron in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari claimed that only a certain elite class of Sindh, namely Karachi, will be affected and insinuated that they were overreacting.
He also stated that the government has to make some tough decision regarding the law and order situation.
PPP MPA Sharmila Faruqi also thought it was a “small price to pay” if Karachi could be “cleansed of criminals”.
PPP member and former interior minister Rehman Malik had begun the ‘tradition’ of banning communication. He shut down cellular networks for extended periods on important national and religious holidays to ‘ensure the safety of the people’.
Malik was bombarded with criticism on Twitter from irate users over the Sindh government’s last proposal. He defended himself, saying he had no authority anymore. But he did say that the provincial government had no authority to ban apps as only the federal government can institute such bans.