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Pakistan Temporarily Blocks Social Media Apps After Violent Protests

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Women check out the online group The Soul Sisters Pakistan on Facebook, in Lahore in August 2020.

Pakistani authorities have restored access to several social media and instant messaging platforms after blocking them for several hours following days of violent protests by followers of a radical Islamist party.

The Interior Ministry on April 16 directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Telegram — from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. local time.

After that time, the PTA issued a statement saying "access to social media applications has been restored." The move was confirmed by social media and instant messaging users.

The notice issued by the ministry did not give a specific reason for the suspension but the PTA said that the move aimed to “maintain public order and safety."

Internet service provider Nayatel said in a message to its customers that platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok, and Telegram had been blocked on the directions of the PTA, according to the newspaper Dawn.

Thousands of followers of the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party clashed with police earlier this week during protests against the arrest of their leader who had called for the expulsion of the France’s ambassador over last year’s publication of a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad -- deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

At least five people, including two police officers, have been killed in the anti-French rallies, which on April 15 prompted France’s Embassy in Islamabad to urge French nationals to leave the South Asian country.

The previous day, the Pakistani government vowed to ban the TLP under the country's antiterrorism laws.

TLP leader Saad Rizvi was detained in the eastern city of Lahore on April 12 to “maintain law and order,” bringing crowds of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.

Police have said Rizvi had been charged under anti-terrorism laws.

In November, thousands of TLP supporters clashed with police and captured a major intersection leading into Islamabad, blocking access into the capital.

Anti-France protests erupted in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to publish cartoons, including those deemed offensive by some Muslims.

Macron's comments came after a French schoolteacher was killed by an Islamist for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, originally published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, during a lesson on freedom of expression in September 2020.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Dawn
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