The Pakistani government ordered the country’s telecommunications companies to temporarily shut down social media and instant messaging platforms on Friday after days of violent protests against France.
In a statement to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the Interior Ministry requested a “complete block” of Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, YouTube and Telegram until 1 p.m. 15.00 (1100 GMT).
Pakistani internet users encountered difficulties accessing apps including WhatApp, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter from Friday morning.
The announcement gave no reason for the ban, but it came a day after the French embassy in Islamabad called on French citizens and businesses in Pakistan to temporarily leave after demonstrations led by the hardline Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik (TLP) demanded the deportation of the French the ambassador and a boycott of French products.
Anti-French sentiment has been circulating for months in Pakistan since French President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed – an act considered far-fetched by many Muslims.
Earlier this week, the Pakistani Interior Ministry said it would ban TLP and detained the group’s leader, Saad Rizvi, a move that sparked violent protests in which two policemen were killed and about 580 were injured.
A “note” from the imprisoned leader of the lawless group
The closure of social media on Friday, the weekly holiday in Pakistan, came as police moved to clear a large demonstration in the eastern city of Lahore, and just hours after the government said Rizvi had urged its supporters to stand down.
In a statement, Rizvi asked his supporters to spread peacefully for the good of the country and end their main rally, which began on Monday, when police arrested the radical priest for threatening protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador before April 20.
Rizvi’s arrest sparked violent protests from his supporters, who disrupted traffic by deploying sit-ins across the country. Although security forces cleared almost all the meetings, thousands of Rizvi supporters are still gathered in Lahore, promising to die to protect the glory of Islam’s prophet Mohammed.
Son takes over the group management from the late father
Rizvi became leader of the TLP in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. The late party leader played a prominent role in blocking all moves to reform Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
The party condemned Macron last year, saying he was trying to defend blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of speech.
The images had been republished by Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial of the deadly attack in 2015 against the publication of the original cartoons.
In recent years, Rizvi’s group has become known for opposing any change in the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, according to which anyone accused of insulting Islam or other religious people can be sentenced to death if found guilty.
( Jowharwith AFP, AP and REUTERS)