Pakistan temporarily blocks social media apps over security concerns

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Pakistan on Friday temporarily suspended the services of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to stop their use to stage protests following violent protests by a radical religious group now banned by the government.

The government on Thursday banned Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) after three days of violent protests to force the government to expel the French ambassador for a blasphemous cartoon published in France last year.

The TLP launched the national demonstration on Monday after the arrest of its leader Saad Hussain Rizvi.

TLP supporters clashed with law enforcement in several towns and villages earlier this week, killing seven and injuring more than 300 police officers.

To stop the protests after the Friday prayers, the Home Office ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to suspend social media services for four hours, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The PTA said in a notification that full access to social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram) could be blocked.

The reason for the suspension of services was not given by the PTA, but official sources said there was concern that protesters could use social media to stage protests.

The suspension of Internet and mobile phone services is a common practice in Pakistan to prevent demonstrations and acts of terrorism.

But this time only social media were particularly targeted, as the TLP reportedly used them effectively against government action.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Thursday warned the TLP against using YouTube to upload propaganda videos. The TLP rose to prominence in November 2017 when it staged a sit-in at the Faizabad interchange near Islamabad and cut the capital off from the old international airport.

The Pakistan-Nawaz Muslim League (PML-N) was in government at the time and Imran Khan, the current prime minister, and his Pakistani party Tehreek-i-Insaf supported the protest.

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