Punjab Proposes Six-Day Social Media Ban During Religious Processions

Authorities in Punjab have proposed blocking YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for six days

Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, is planning to ban all social media platforms for six days, citing security concerns, during religious processions starting next week, its Interior Ministry has announced.

The Punjab government of Maryam Nawaz recommended on Thursday the banning of all social media including YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, from July 13 to 18 to “control hate material, misinformation, to avoid sectarian violence.”

“It is a recommendation, and no decision has so far been taken,” Information Minister Uzma Bukhari told Reuters on Friday, adding that the government had received reports of some sectarian issues on social media which, according to him, could “put the country on fire.”

The decision to implement the suspension will be taken by the federal government, led by Nawaz’s uncle, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The proposed ban in the province of over 120 million people relates to Muharram’s Ashura processions, the 10 days of mourning observed by minority Shi’ite Muslims.

The 10th day of Muharram-ul-Haram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is considered sacred among Shi’ite Muslims; every year they commemorate the death of religious leader Hussain Ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

This is not the first time social media has been targeted by Pakistani authorities. The country’s Interior Ministry blocked X (formerly Twitter) in February amid the national elections due to “national security concerns.” Civil rights activists have criticized the ban as a violation of freedom of speech amid allegations of election fraud against the ruling government, as the main opposition leader and former prime minister, Imran Khan, remains imprisoned.

Multiple convictions were used to bar Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from running for office in the February elections. The former prime minister alleged earlier this year that the vote had been undermined by large-scale electoral rigging.

Both the military and the government have reportedly received a backlash on social media since Khan’s ouster via a no-confidence motion in April 2022.

A Pakistani court is due to rule on the last of Khan’s many convictions on July 12; this move will coincide with the proposed social media ban.