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Pakistan cuts off phone and internet services on election day

Pakistan has temporarily suspended mobile phone network and internet services across the country to combat any “possible threats,” a top ministry said, as the South Asian nation commences its national election.

In a statement, Pakistan’s interior ministry said the move was prompted by recent incidents of terrorism in the country. The internet was accessible through wired broadband connections, local journalists posted on X earlier Thursday. But NetBlocks, an independent service that tracks outages, said later that Pakistan had started to block internet services as well.

⚠️ Update: Real-time network data show that internet blackouts are now in effect in multiple regions of #Pakistan in addition to mobile network disruptions; the incident comes on election day and follows months of digital censorship targeting the political opposition 📉 pic.twitter.com/47Yja44TI9

— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 8, 2024

The polls have opened in the nation and will close at 5 p.m. The interior ministry didn’t say when it will switch back on the mobile services.

Though it’s not unprecedented for a nation to switch off the mobile networks and internet on key days — governments in other countries, including neighbor nation India, as well as Uganda and Ethiopia, have also made similar moves in the past — a nationwide block is still very uncommon.

Free speech advocates have criticized governments in the past for what they see as overuse of mobile network shutdowns, arguing access to information and communication should be maintained even more during political votes.

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