The popular TikTok video-sharing app was blocked Wednesday in Pakistan for a fourth time because of “inappropriate content”, the country’s telecommunication regulator said.
The Chinese-owned site has fought a series of legal battles with religious activists and authorities in the conservative Muslim nation, and was shut down for two days earlier this month on the order of a provincial court.
Freedom of speech advocates have long criticised creeping government censorship and control of Pakistan’s internet and media.
“The action has been taken due to continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down,” the telecoms authority said in a statement.
A Pakistan province said Friday it will block the mobile phones of people refusing to get Covid-19 jabs, in the latest move to penalise the unvaccinated in a country where only a fraction of the population have been inoculated.
It comes after Sindh province said civil servants who refuse to be vaccinated will not be paid from July.
A third wave of infections has begun to stabilise in Pakistan after weeks of tough restrictions, and in Punjab — the country’s most populous province which includes the megacity of Lahore — demand for jabs has slowed.
“At first this was only a proposal, but people have been very hesitant in getting vaccinated so the decision was made,” said Hammad Raza, spokesman for the Punjab Primary Health department.
He said the state telecoms agency will decide how to implement the measure.
Pakistan’s nationwide vaccination rollout has ramped up in recent weeks with more than 200,000 doses administered most days, but it adds up to only a fraction of the 220 million population.
Almost 10.5 million doses have been administered, with China supplying most of the vaccines.
But concerns about the side effects of the jab, coupled with misinformation that it causes infertility or death within two years, have sparked vaccine hesitancy.
“Pakistan’s education level is low. People are also spreading rumours and misinformation about the vaccines,” Salman Haseeb, the head of Pakistan’s Young Doctor’s Association, told AFP.
“So information campaigns by the government won’t work for the short-term. They will have to make use of the law to ensure everyone gets vaccinated.”
The measures were met with concern by some Pakistanis in Lahore.
“It will be hard for me if I can’t use my phone, but I am very scared about the vaccine,” said Saima Bibi, a domestic worker in Lahore.
“You can’t force someone to get vaccinated,” added Farwa Hussain, a teacher in Rawalpindi, who has already received a shot.
Under new incentives, those who do get vaccinated will be allowed access to cinemas, celebration halls, and shrines, while restrictions will be lifted on businesses in districts with more than 20 percent of the population protected.
Mobile vaccine centres will also be set up outside shrines to reach people in rural areas.
Pakistan has recorded more than 940,000 infections and 21,500 deaths, but with limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector, many fear the true extent of the disease is much worse.
National data also shows that around 300,000 recipients of the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine haven’t returned for a second dose.
Militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked Kabul International Airport in the Afghan capital on Thursday in one of the most audacious assaults on the facility, used by both civilians and the military, in a year.
The attack on the airport comes at a time of great uncertainty for Afghanistan as votes from the second round of a disputed presidential election are to be recounted. The poll is meant to mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.
The attack lasted about four hours after four unidentified militants armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades opened fire on the airport from the roof of a building just to its north.
“Four terrorists were killed by police special forces. The area is being cleared now, there are no casualties to our forces,” said Interior Ministry Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
The airport is home to a major operational base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting Taliban and other insurgents for 12 years and is bristling with soldiers and police, guard towers and several lines of security checkpoints.
Militants fire rockets into the airport almost every week, causing little damage, but frontal attacks on the heavily guarded facility are rare and represent an ambitious target for insurgents. The attack was similar in tactics to last year’s assault on the airport, when seven Taliban insurgents including suicide bombers attacked after taking up positions inside a partially constructed building nearby.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack.
A Kabul airport official told Reuters all flights had been diverted to other cities. In such circumstances, passenger planes are immediately diverted to other Afghan cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west.
“Due to the closeness of the attack to the runway, Kabul airport is now closed to all flights,” the official said. Planes could be heard circling above Kabul as the attack unfolded.
On Tuesday, a car bomb detonated in a crowded market killed 43 people and wounded at least 74 in the eastern province of Paktika, close to Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan.
Masked gunmen stormed a house and killed nine police cadets in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Thursday.
The Pakistani Taliban said it was responsible and vowed more violence in the region.
Lahore city police chief Aslam Tareen said three policemen were also wounded.
At around 6 a.m., masked gunmen on three motorcycles stormed the house and opened fire. The victims were trainees at the Punjab Jail Academy,” Tareen said.
Many of the police were from the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan, a hotbed of Pakistan’s insurgency.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the police from that region had been targeted because they treated Taliban detainees poorly.
“We were looking for them for a long time as their attitude with our people in jails is very inhuman and insulting,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The Pakistani Taliban’s threat of further attacks raised the prospect of more violence in a region that has been largely spared by insurgent trouble in recent years.
On Monday, gunmen killed six soldiers and a policeman at a riverside military encampment in eastern Pakistan, 100 km (60 miles) north of Lahore. The Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility for that attack.