Bad news for internet freedom advocates in Pakistan this week as evidence emerges that the country’s authorities have suspended mobile broadband services across the country and also blocked many prominent and widely-used social media sites too.
The move comes in the wake of the arrest on Tuesday of former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition PTI political party Imran Khan.
Mobile internet deliberately blocked
It was announced on Tuesday by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) that it was intentionally switching off mobile broadband services across the country, according to the local Geo News service.
The move was taken at the request of the country’s Interior Ministry as a result of protests which started to erupt across the country after news of Khan’s arrest first broke.
The argument made by the Pakistani authorities was that “unwarranted” clips of these protests were being shared on social media.
The internet blackout has continued throughout Wednesday and into Thursday. It is being reported that the PTI has said that mobile internet will remain “suspended for an indefinite period.”
This has inevitably raised concerns that these restrictions could be in place for a long period of time or perhaps even be made permanent.
It is not just the internet access that is being impacted by this move. One resident in the city of Karachi told Geo News that “Tuning into the TV to follow the news on such a politically charged day is second nature to me. But I had an error message greet me because even my television channel subscription is tied to my internet services.”
It therefore appears that this move is an attempt by the Pakistani authorities to prevent the Pakistani people from being informed about the arrest of the former Prime Minister.
Social Media blackout implemented too
It has also been reported by Netblocks, an independent monitoring service which looks at internet access and restrictions around the world, that a number of the biggest and most popular social media sites are also being blocked throughout Pakistan.
According to Netblocks, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all currently impossible to access through multiple internet service providers inside Pakistan. They rightly stated on social media that this move is “likely to limit freedom of assembly and the public’s ability to seek information.”
They note that real-time network data show the disruption in effect on some but not all mobile and fixed-line internet providers in Pakistan at the time of writing. It is also worth noting that hundreds of protestors are also being arrested while this social media block is in place.
With the main social media outlets down, those opposed to the move to arrest Imran Khan or those who are keen to find out the truth about what has happened are finding it impossible to communicate or access impartial information.
As a result, many have begun to look at how to bypass the Government’s internet blocks and censorship. #UseVPN quickly began trending across Pakistan.
How to use a VPN to bypass Pakistan’s Internet Block and Social Media Censorship
Analysis shows that Pakistan VPN searches and downloads have skyrocketed over the past few days.
Some estimates suggest that VPN demand has increased across the country by as much as 846%.
They will be working in Pakistan because the most common method of blocking access is by restricting specific sites and apps. But a VPN changes your IP Address and it is therefore possible to make it appear as if you are logging on from outside Pakistan and so evade the blocks.
Advice to Pakistani citizens keen to exercise their right to protest has also been circulating. This includes things like downloading and using a VPN, using the Bridgefy app to connect locally even without access to the internet, and removing Wi-Fi passwords to let others access it (we advise caution if doing this of course).
Pakistan already has a pretty poor record when it comes to online freedoms. It has already attempted to force VPNs to register, and this is far from the first time that it has shut down internet access or blocked sites.
So bad has it got before that the Pakistani authorities have even managed to get Google, Facebook, and Twitter to unite in opposing their online censorship measures.
Using a VPN is pretty much essential in Pakistan these days, and our guide to the Best VPNs for Pakistan is the ideal place to start.