By Javed Iqbal
In today’s fast-changing digital era of the 21st century when social media has become a fundamental right of the masses, an internet ban seems to be the weapon of choice for the powers that be in a crisis-like situation in Pakistan.
The Pakistani government’s recent crackdown on political dissidents resulted in the denial of internet access to its citizens. This “unlawful practice” not only infringes upon the fundamental right to free speech and the right to earn but also obstructs political progress and undermines democracy. Each instance of an internet ban deals a devastating blow to those aspiring for change and exposing corruption.
This leads us to question whether we envision a future where our voices are muzzled or possess the resolve to fight for our inherent right to connect, communicate and challenge prevailing norms.
Government may attempt to rationalise these measures as necessary for maintaining law and order, but they inevitably trample upon basic human rights, including freedom of expression, assembly and information. Throughout history, such bans have been employed by various countries to silence political dissidents and quash opposition to the ruling regime.
IMPACTS OF BANNING INTERNET SERVICES
Violation of Fundamental Rights: Banning internet service violates fundamental rights and contradicts the principles of democracy. The internet has become an indispensable tool for communication, information dissemination and connectivity. Bans result in censorship, assaulting the principles of freedom of speech and expression.
Government should seek alternative approaches to address security concerns without impinging upon people’s basic rights and freedoms. Striking a balance between security and upholding a free and open society, where individuals can access information and express opinions freely, is crucial.
Impact on Businesses and Economy: Abrupt banning of internet services severely disrupts the day-to-day operations of numerous businesses. Communication with customers and suppliers, processing orders and conducting financial transactions heavily rely on the internet. The consequences can be significant, including loss of revenue, inability to serve customers and job layoffs.
The ripple effect extends beyond individual businesses, resulting in reduced economic activity. Government must consider the role of the internet in supporting businesses, facilitating economic growth and minimising disruptions to business operations.
Investment Climate: Banning internet services can have a detrimental impact on the investment climate. Local and foreign investors perceive such measures as indicators of political instability, eroding their confidence and they become hesitant to invest in the region. This impedes economic growth, and job opportunities, and hampers overall development. Government need to consider the potential long-term consequences of internet bans on the investment climate.
By fostering openness, transparency and reliable digital connectivity, they can attract investors, stimulate economic growth and create sustainable job opportunities.
Social and Psychological Effects: Banning internet services has profound social and psychological effects, especially on young people. It denies them their right to free speech, communication and access to information, leading to isolation, frustration and anger. This can manifest in anti-government sentiments and unrest. Social media has become a vital space for young people to express their identities and cutting them off from this space affects their sense of self-identity and belongingness, leading to uncertainty, anxiety and depression.
International Stance and Solutions: The United Nations has criticised countries that ban internet access as it violates basic human rights. The UN Human Rights Council declared in 2016 that access to the internet is a human right and restricting access is a violation of human rights law.
Countries are urged to ensure unrestricted internet access for all citizens. To combat this form of censorship, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Government should be held accountable, transparency demanded and individuals can use tools like virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass restrictions. Increased international pressure can encourage offending government to respect freedom of speech and restore full internet access.
By addressing the issues associated with internet service bans, Pakistan can safeguard fundamental rights, promote democracy, support economic growth, and ensure a thriving digital socioeconomic environment for its citizens.
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