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#KeepItOn: To defend democracy, authorities must immediately reconnect Pakistan’s internet 

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.

Completely shutting down access to mobile communications on voting day, of all days, is unacceptable — the people of Pakistan need internet access to ensure a free, fair, and inclusive election. Authorities’ decision to sever access to information discredits the integrity of Pakistan’s elections. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

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.

Cutting off mobile internet services on election day hinders journalists’ ability to do their job and undermines voters’ rights to stay informed. A free and fair election requires independent media reporting and unhampered access to information, making this latest move deeply troubling and raising further questions about Pakistan’s commitment to democracy and fundamental rights. Beh Lih Yi, Asia Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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.