So much for Pakistan’s plan for digital economy – it’s turned off the internet

As protests roil, connectivity has been cut with no relief in sight

Pakistan has blocked internet access across much of the country – perhaps indefinitely – as protests erupt over the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan.

Khan was ousted in 2022, with Pakistan's military playing a role – as it did when he was elected. But Khan is more than a politician: he once captained Pakistan's cricket team to a famous World Cup victory, earning him folk hero status. Then he turned his back on a life of luxury in the West, entered politics, and led a minor party into government.

Protests over his ouster saw internet service disrupted in 2022.

When he was arrested on charges of corruption early this week, protests quickly followed and became unusually widespread and violent.

The authorities have responded with widespread internet blocks. Numerous reports suggest that in places connectivity persists, though social networks cannot be reached. Pakistan's telecoms regulator has reportedly said the downtime will be indefinite.

Outage-watching org NetBlocks has analyzed the performance of Pakistan's networks in recent days and substantiated reports of outages.

"NetBlocks metrics confirm the disruption of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on multiple internet providers in Pakistan on Tuesday 9 May 2023. Additionally, total internet shutdowns have been observed on mobile networks in some regions," the outfit stated.

Digital rights advocacy organization Access Now has called for connectivity to be restored.

"People rely on the internet to obtain healthcare, education, and even earn their livelihoods," said the org’s Asia-Pacific policy director Raman Jit Singh Chima. "Hitting the kill switch is neither necessary nor proportionate, and can never be justified. Pakistani authorities must scrap their go-to tool used to quash political protests over the last year."

Chima's point about livelihoods applies to Pakistan itself: the nation promotes the use of freelance remote work platforms as a way for residents to earn a living and to improve services exports.

This round of lockdowns has, however, seen prominent freelance platform Fiverr warn users that workers in the nation are at risk, per the screenshot below.

Fiverr Pakistan internet outage warning

Oooh-err ... Fiverr's Pakistan internet outage warning

That the outages are depriving citizens of their livelihoods – and likely reducing confidence in Pakistan's freelancers – is only fueling anger about the political situation in the world's fifth-most-populous nation. ®

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