01/25/2024, 19.14
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Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party increasingly censored (online as well)

A watchdog reports the disruption of a social media event by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). A Supreme Court ruling earlier this month is forcing PTI candidates to run as independents after the party’s symbol was banned. Journalists have been told to avoid references to the former prime minister, to the advantage of Nawaz Sharif, experts say.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The caretaker government running Pakistan until elections on 8 February has disrupted online political events by former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

While the authorities say that recent Internet outages were caused by technical glitches, several journalists have revealed that they had been ordered to censor information related to the election campaign of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of the 70-year-old former cricket star, Al Jazeera reported.

Imran Khan stepped down as Pakistan’s prime minister after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022. Since then, he has since tried to keep a high profile in national politics, claiming that the establishment, particularly the powerful military, is trying to obstruct his election campaign.

In fact, watchdog organisation NetBlocks said as much on its X (ex-twitter) account last Saturday: “Confirmed: Live metrics show a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across #Pakistan, including X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube; the incident comes as persecuted opposition leader Imran Khan's political party, PTI, launches its second virtual gathering”.

Even on 7 January, when the PTI organised an online fundraiser, accessing social media, which experts say are one of the last venues for the party to reach voters, was disrupted.

“There is no coverage of PTI on TV media and hence they are left with social media to spread their political message,” Sabookh Syed, political analyst in Islamabad, told Nikkei Asia.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court banned the PTI from using its signature cricket bat symbol – a nod to Khan's sporting career and a key visual marker for many rural voters who are illiterate. The court cited irregularities in internal party elections for its decision, but the net effect is that candidates have to run as independents, not as members of the political party.

Although the caretaker government has distanced itself from the decision, observers believe the move was designed to benefit the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had to flee the country due to corruption allegations but was able to return home late last year.

Over the past few weeks, the Electoral Commission has also rejected the nomination papers of many would-be PTI candidates (those who have so far not been arrested or forced otherwise to quit the party).

Journalists from Pakistan's major news media outlets have been banned from covering PTI, instructed “to clearly identify the candidates only as ‘independent’ and not show which party they were related to,” an insider said.

Although government authorities continue to deny it, the repression of dissent and electoral fraud is nothing new for Pakistan; even during Imran Khan’s administration, media were subjected to harassment and intimidation.

According to some observers, the Internet is likely to be shut down on voting day as well, but for several journalists, this would make little difference: “The coverage is completely lopsided now. There is no level playing field” in the current election campaign.

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See also
Shaky start for Pakistan’s new parliament
29/02/2024 20:15
Pakistan elections: Imran Khan's 'independents' leading but without a majority
09/02/2024 17:49
Post-election chaos in Islamabad: Khan wins, but Muslim League closer to government
12/02/2024 18:34
Shehbaz Sharif becomes the new PM as Imran Khan’s MPs quit in protest
11/04/2022 16:10
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years in prison
30/01/2024 13:21


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