ISLAMABAD: Only a day before the elections, civil society organizations have called upon the caretaker government of Pakistan to refrain from suspension of cellular suspensions on the polling day.
In a press conference held here at Islamabad by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Bytes for All, Pakistan and Peace and Justice Network, rights groups have expressed concern at the recent shutdown of cellular services in six districts of Baluchistan and also upon the impending cellular suspension tomorrow (July 25) in the name of security.
“..suspension of mobile cellular services on the election day will inevitably lead to immense inconvenience not only for voters and political workers, but also for officials involved in organizing the elections as well as election observers.”, read the statement issued by the rights groups at the press conference.
Calling these shutdowns a violation of human rights including the right to information, the right to freedom of speech and the right to freedom of assembly, guaranteed under Articles 19A, 19 and 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan, respectively, the statement noted that It was the constitutional responsibility of the federal government to uphold these fundamental rights.
Reminding that the access to internet was an essential prerequisite for ensuring transparency and accountability in elections, rights groups stated that the suspension of cellular services was tantamount to robbing citizens of access to an effective tool of accountability-social media and would only raise questions around the legitimacy and transparency of the electoral process.
Referring to the recent decision of Islamabad High Court that declared network shutdowns illegal, rights groups noted, “According to Section 54(3) of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996, the federal government can suspend the operation of mobile cellular services on the ground of national security only when an Emergency has been proclaimed by the President of Pakistan, pursuant to the powers vested in him under Part X of the Constitution of Pakistan.”
Earlier, other rights organizations including Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi expressed concern at the internet shutdown in a statement and urged the caretaker government not to cut off citizens from reach other. Calling these shutdowns a violation of free speech and freedom of information under articles 19 and 19-A respectively of the constitution, they said that these shutdowns did not contribute towards improving national security.
“Internet has become a primary source of information for the people of Pakistan, and often times we see mainstream media adopting news items from online platforms. The ambulatory nature of the mobile-based internet allows for everyone to contribute news for the people, and makes way for misinformation to be rejected through evidence-based reporting”, read the statement.
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.