ISLAMABAD: Nationwide disruption to social media platform X passed the one-week mark in Pakistan on Saturday, with digital rights monitors warning outages were quashing dissent after an election marred by rigging claims.

The platform, formerly known as Twitter, was downed last Saturday after a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 poll.

Over the past week, it has been operational only intermittently, with access varying depending on the internet service provider.

“Pakistan’s directed use of network shutdowns and restrictions to overtly target political parties and the reporting of election irregularities is unprecedented,“ Alp Toker of the NetBlocks web watchdog told AFP.

AFP staff reported that X remained disrupted in the capital Islamabad as well as the megacities of Lahore and Karachi on Saturday.

Pakistan’s telecommunication authority declined to comment while the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called for nationwide protests after the admission of vote-rigging last week.

“Protesting political parties have actively been using X for freedom of expression, access to information, to assemble online and for other associated rights,“ said web monitor Bytes for All.

The disruption “restricts citizens’ ability to engage in online discourse, share information, and express dissenting opinions”, the organisation wrote in a report published Friday.

In the months leading to the polling day, PTI suffered a crackdown restricting canvassing and forcing candidates to run as independents.

Its campaign moved mostly online where social media events were censored by numerous nationwide blackouts of X as well as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

Outages were blamed on “technical difficulties” by the government.

Despite the restrictions, PTI-backed candidates gained more seats than any other party. But it has been unwilling to ally with rivals, paving the way for the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to form a government.

Mobile internet services were cut across the country on the election day, with the interior ministry citing security reasons.

The blackout, coupled with a long delay in issuing voting results, gave rise to allegations of rigging. - AFP

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