March 20, 2020 — The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has responded to the Right to Information (RTI) request filed by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) enquiring about the blocking of two online magazines, Slate (slate.com) and Gizmodo (gizmodo.com), on Pakistani networks.
The blocking of Slate’s website on internet networks in Pakistan was noticed in December 2019. According to the data by NetBlocks and Open Observatory, the ban was in effect since November 2, 2019. Furthermore, Slate also confirmed at least 50 percent drop in the traffic from Pakistan. The inaccessibility of Gizmodo was noticed in early February 2020, after which the RTI requests were filed.
The requests enquired whether the blocking was in effect on orders of PTA, and on what grounds were they blocked. According to the response by PTA dated March 18, the block was, in fact, in place, and was ‘due to a technical fault’. The response further stated that the websites are accessible at present.
The unblocking of both websites was noticed on at least three major ISPs on March 17, 2020. While PTA’s response does not specify what technical errors caused the censorship, however, such arbitrary blocking of online content not only affects the freedom of the press, but also curtails people’s right to access information that global magazines like these host on their platforms.