Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has temporarily blocked Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and some other social media services across the country as part of a security crackdown on a far-right religious party, officials say.
The temporary ban blocked all access to social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and messaging apps Whatsapp and Telegram across the country from 11:00 a.m. local time (06:00 GMT) on Friday, an official with the ministry said. Interior.
“This was imposed in anticipation of [Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan or TLP] the protests and their social media penetration [is very high]“said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Press release: In order to maintain public order and security, access to certain social media applications has been temporarily restricted.
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) April 16, 2021
The official said the “temporary ban” would be lifted at 3:00 p.m. local time (10:00 GMT), although several areas continued to report outages after that time.
A second official familiar with the matter confirmed to Al Jazeera that the services had been blocked by the government, with the country’s telecommunications regulator saying the action was taken “in order to maintain public order and safety”.
The far-right TLP staged days of violent protests against the arrest of its leader Saad Rizvi on Monday.
Clashes between police and protesters have left at least four officers dead and more than 600 injured, an official said on Friday.
At their peak, the protests saw the closure of major intercity highways and the blocking of roads in major cities such as Karachi, the country’s largest city, the eastern city of Lahore and the capital Islamabad.
Police fired water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters as they tried to disperse them.
Protests had been largely suppressed on Thursday, but limited demonstrations continued in some areas. Authorities said they feared the TLP could launch large protests after the midday congregational prayers on Friday.
A day earlier, the government had officially banned the TLP under anti-terrorism legislation, with the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) adding it to Pakistan’s list of “prohibited organizations”.
Also on Thursday, the French government asked French citizens and businesses to leave Pakistan due to “serious threats” from the TLP protests.
In November, the TLP launched a multi-day sit-in to block a highway leading to the capital Islamabad following remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron that many, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, had “encouraged the Islamophobia”.
Macron had defended the right of publications to reprint controversial cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, an act considered “blasphemous” by some Muslims.
Founded in 2017 by incendiary cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP has campaigned on a one-point program of tackling perceived ‘blasphemy’, staging several mass protests across the country against its opposition to laws it considers as blasphemous and the acquittal of a Christian woman of the crime of blasphemy.
The party holds three seats in the provincial assembly of the southern province of Sindh. On Thursday, the government announced it would begin proceedings to have the party deregistered by the electoral commission, potentially overthrowing those three lawmakers.
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan and insulting the Quran, Islam’s prophet Muhammad or Muslim holy figures can result in a mandatory death sentence.
Since 1990, at least 78 people have been murdered in connection with blasphemy allegations across Pakistan, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.