Islamabad — Authorities in Pakistan temporarily slowed down internet services and blocked access to major social media platforms Sunday amid a rare online rally organized by the party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, said its “virtual power show” was held in response to a government crackdown on party workers and election-related public gatherings.
“In what was an expected move, the illegitimate, fascist regime has slowed down internet speed & disrupted social media platforms all across Pakistan, prior to the PTI’s historic Virtual Jalsa (political rally)!” the party said in a statement. “This is proof of the fear of the unprecedented popularity of Imran Khan’s PTI!”
NetBlocks, an independent global internet monitor promoting digital rights, cybersecurity, and governance, confirmed the disruptive internet connectivity in Pakistan.
“Live metrics show a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across #Pakistan, including X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube; the incident comes just ahead of a major virtual gathering organized by persecuted opposition leader Imran Khan’s party, PTI,” NetBlocks wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
There was no immediate government response to the allegations.
The online PTI rally comes as election officials prepare to organize national elections on February 8.
Khan, 71, has been in a political showdown with the country’s powerful military since a parliamentary no-confidence motion toppled his government in April 2022.
The cricket star-turned-prime minister rejected the motion as illegal, accusing the United States of orchestrating his ouster with the help of the Pakistani military, charges Washington and Islamabad reject.
Since his ousting, Khan has faced dozens of lawsuits filed by authorities, which he claims to be a ploy by the military to prevent his comeback to power because of his advocacy for an independent foreign policy for Pakistan, one free from the influence of the United States.
In early August, Khan was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison, which he denies. Although a higher court later suspended his sentence and ordered his release on bail, Pakistani authorities have refused, citing numerous other lawsuits against him.
A military-backed government crackdown on Khan’s party has led to the arrest of scores of his key aides, including former ministers and lawmakers, on charges they played a role in attacks on army installations during PTI-led anti-government protests last May.
While many PTI members remain in jail and await trial, dozens of others have been freed after publicly denouncing Khan, quitting his party, or joining other groups allegedly under military pressure.
The military has staged three coups against elected prime ministers since Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947, and it ruled the country for more than three decades. Critics say army generals influence policymaking significantly, even when not in power.
According to public opinion polls, Khan remains the country’s most popular politician, and his party is rated as Pakistan’s most considerable political force.