KARACHI: In an effort to cripple the capability of terrorists to easily plan and coordinate criminal activities, the Sindh provincial government has decided to block access to popular internet telephony services which they say militants use for communication.

The services affected by the three-month suspension may include Skype and Viber, among others.

“Criminal elements and terrorists have smartly switched these networks. Previously, they communicated through their cellular phones. Now they have switched to networks to which we do not have access,” Information Minister Sharjeel Memon told reports at a news conference.

“For this (access) we have written to the federal government to coordinate with these companies to grant us access to them. Until then, we unfortunately have to announce to all citizens of Sindh that these services will be inaccessible all over the province for the next three months,” said the provincial minister.

Memon made the announcement after a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah in which the decisions were taken. The meeting was attended by senior police and intelligence officials.

Provincial Information Minister Sharjeel Memon did not spell out how closing down the networks would improve security. But security services say instant messaging and internet telephony are used by militants and other armed groups to plan attacks.

It was also not clear even if or how the ban could be practically enforced.

Social media was abuzz on Thursday with the criticism of the decision with several citizens on Facebook and Twitter protesting the ban.

Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh, also took to Twitter to defend the provincial government’s decision.

“I’d rather lose an app than another life,” he said in a tweet. “We can intercept cell phones and SMS but not Whatsapp, Viber, etc… Temporary ban not permanent.”

Pakistan has taken to clamping down on internet freedoms of late. In September 2012, the Pakistani government blocked YouTube after an anti-Islamic video was posted online.

Since then, Pakistan has blocked liberal websites although has left militant sites untouched. According to a study released Thursday by watchdog Freedom House, Pakistan ranks among the 10 worst countries in terms of freedoms on the internet and social media.

Islamabad recently signed a contract with Canadian company Netsweeper, according to Canadian research group CitizenLab, after advertising for a firm that would allow it to block 50 million websites at a time.

source: dawn