Facebook, Google and Twitter Rebel Against Pakistan’s Censorship Rules

Mr. Khan rose to power in Pakistan in 2018 partly because of his party’s strong presence on social media, a fact he acknowledges in his speeches. But now that he is in charge, he has shown little patience for online criticism.

Pakistan’s powerful military is also averse to debates on social media platforms, especially on Twitter, which is used by critics to question human rights violations and the military’s involvement in politics.

Over the past two years, Pakistani government requests for Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove content have increased sharply, according to transparency reports published by the companies. Pakistan disclosed in September that it had blocked more than 900,000 web pages for various reasons, including pornography, blasphemy and sentiments against the state and military.

Separately, regulators in Pakistan have proposed requiring online video sites to obtain licenses from the government.

There is a strong case to be made that the government is overstepping its authority with the new rules, said Muhammad Aftab Alam, executive director of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, a Pakistani public policy group.

“This national coordinator is judge, jury, regulator and executioner as well,” he said.

At least two lawsuits challenging the rules have already been brought in Pakistani courts.

“The main objective of the impugned rules seems to be to control the social media through indirect control by the government and ruling party,” read the petition in one case, filed by Raja Ahsan Masood, who asked the court to declare them unconstitutional.

Vindu Goel reported from Mumbai, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan, and Davey Alba from New York.