Pakistan blocks social media platforms amid anti-France protests

Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to temporarily block access to social media websites across the country between 11 AM and 3 PM on Friday. In a statement, the Ministry announced that it would briefly be suspending the services of Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram in the country, without mentioning a reason for suspension.

“…complete access to social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram) may be blocked from 1100hrs to 1500hrs on 16th April 2021 across the country,” the notification issued by the Ministry of Interior read, according to Dawn.

This step comes merely a day after the Pakistan government slapped a ban on the radical Islamist party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), under the Terrorism Act after its supporters clashed with the law enforcement agencies for the third consecutive day.

On Thursday the Pakistan government banned an extremist political party whose leader had called for a march on the capital to demand the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained hours after the Tuesday call, bringing thousands of his supporters onto the streets in cities across the country.

Two police officers died in clashes during which water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used.

French nationals and companies in Pakistan were advised by their embassy Thursday to temporarily leave after violent anti-France protests paralysed large parts of the country.

Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a satirical magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed — deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email Thursday to French citizens.

“The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”

Extra security personnel were deployed to the French embassy — inside a guarded diplomatic enclave closed to the public — and shipping containers placed as fortifications around its outer wall.