(MENAFN - Gulf Times) The Pakistan government imposed an hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms yesterday, after days of violent anti-France protests.
The move came after French nationals and companies in Pakistan were advised by their embassy to temporarily leave the country, in the wake of rallies led by a religious party that paralysed many cities and left four police officers dead.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) cut Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Telegram until late afternoon yesterday to 'maintain public order and safety, following a request by the interior ministry.
Political parties frequently use social media to rally supporters, and the announcement came just before Friday prayers, which usually draw huge crowds to mosques where firebrand sermons have in the past catalysed protests.
Pakistani authorities have used strategic social media bans and cuts to mobile services in the past in an attempt to head off major protests.
Some rights activists criticised yesterday's social media blackout, warning that it could lead to more severe curbs on freedoms.
Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters spilled onto the streets in cities across the country on Monday after their leader was detained following his calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday that four police officers had been killed and more than 600 injured in clashes.
Protests had been cleared from most cities yesterday, but in Lahore hundreds of TLP supporters continued a sit-in at a religious school and party headquarters.
More than 200 people have been arrested, police sources said, while the TLP said some of its supporters had died.
Farhan Ahmed, a driver in Lahore, said the government had blocked WhatsApp to prevent people from sharing information about how much the TLP 'have suffered in protests.
'What is being done to them is not good ... the government doesn't want us to talk about what they have done, he said.
Anti-French sentiment has been festering for months in Pakistan since President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a satirical magazine's right to republish certain cartoons.
On Thursday the French embassy advised all its citizens and companies to pull out of Pakistan, citing 'serious threats to French interests.
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