Government orders hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms after days of violent protests.
Pakistan has temporarily blocked Facebook, Twitter and several other social media apps on security grounds amid a crackdown against a violent far-right group, officials said.
“In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications has been restricted temporarily,” a senior telecommunications authority official told Reuters news agency, without specifying which social media.
The interior ministry said in a statement the block would last until 3pm (10:00 GMT) and applied to YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram and TikTok.
Pakistan said this week it had banned the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after the arrest of its leader sparked nationwide protests that were also fuelled by anti-France sentiment.
A second security source said the block was linked to an operation under way against the group.
“As the government announced earlier … wherever we need we will be blocking social media to crack down against Tehrik-i-Labaiak,” he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.
The country has been mired in protests by TLP this week. At least four policemen have been killed in three days of violence, according to the country’s information minister. Nearly 600 people have been wounded, with 200 in critical condition.
The group has been agitating against the arrest of its chief in advance of countrywide rallies to denounce the publication of cartoons in France depicting the Prophet Mohammad. For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous.
Anti-France sentiments have been festering for months in Pakistan since French President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a satirical magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet.
On Thursday, a French embassy official in Pakistan confirmed to Al Jazeera that it has advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country amid the violent protests.
Some rights activists criticised Friday’s social media blackout, warning it could lead to more severe curbs on freedoms.
“These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good [and] instead opened ways to blanket bans,” said Nighat Dad, head of the Digital Rights Foundation on Twitter, shortly before the site became inaccessible.