As Pakistan heads to the polls today, February 8, Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the #KeepItOn coalition strongly condemn the Pakistani caretaker government’s suspension of mobile services across the country, and demand that full internet access be reinstated immediately.
With millions of people in Pakistan relying on the internet for essential information needed to cast their vote, the government’s disproportionate action jeopardises democracy. People’s right to freely and fairly choose their elected representatives must be safeguarded.
Ahead of polling day, human rights campaigners from across the globe had already urged Pakistani authorities to safeguard unfettered internet access before, during, and after the elections. This is essential for enabling voters not only to access information on candidates and their policies, but also to locate and travel to their nearest polling stations, verify candidates’ party symbols, and confirm election rules.
In the run-up to today’s vote, Pakistan has seen a sharp increase in the use of censorship and shutdown tools. The government’s decision to disrupt internet services closes off avenues for people to ensure their voices are heard and their votes are counted.
Despite assurances by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Election Commission, journalists, human rights defenders, election watchdogs, and voters have been cut off from each other and from the world, as the caretaker government intensifies its clampdown on communication services.
Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the #KeepItOn coalition call on Pakistan’s caretaker government to immediately restore full access to all telecommunication services, including the internet. The Election Commission must also revise its decision not to direct the government to restore cellular services, and fulfil its responsibility to prevent electoral malpractices, given how lack of timely access to information and accurate information can reduce voter participation.