Mobile Service Suspension Requested in Lahore

Written by: Aisha Farrukh

Islamabad – Residents of Lahore will face another cellular network shutdown for eight hours on Friday on the request of the Punjab interim government.

The Punjab home department wrote a letter to the federal Interior Ministry on Thursday to request switching-off mobile services in selected areas of Lahore from 3pm to 11pm, on the day former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif are scheduled to land at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore.

Crowds of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters are expected to take out a rally to the airport from inner Lahore at 4pm to welcome the Sharifs, who are arriving from London via Abu Dhabi to face jail terms and an appeals process after an accountability court sentenced them to prison on 6 July for possessing assets beyond means among other charges.

According to the letter sent to the interior ministry, the Punjab home department referred to a request from the Inspector General of Police Punjab that the network shutdown was needed to “control law & order situation” on 13 July owing to the PML-N rally.

The home department identified five locations for switching off the cellular services: Lahore Airport, Walled City Area, Shadra Area, Barki/Hadyara Area, and Nawab Town Area.

The network shutdown request was for eight hours between 3pm and 11pm. However, Lahore residents on Twitter complained of facing network outages even before the requested timeframe, indicating that the local administration might have received permission for the network shutdown and executed it.

While the Punjab caretaker government’s attempted network shutdown might be to prevent any untoward incident during the PML-N rally, it is not the first time that Pakistanis are facing such blocking of cellular services.

Cellular services have been suspended citing security concerns on numerous occasions previously, including on Pakistan Day (23 March) and during the Faizabad dharna by the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah in November 2017.

The Islamabad High Court declared arbitrary network shutdowns illegal in March, but the federal government got a stay on the decision through an intra-court appeal and enforced a network shutdown in Rawalpindi and Islamabad for the Pakistan Day parade.

Human rights activists around the world believe cellular network shutdowns disrupt the routine lives of citizens by limiting their means to communicate and making them unable to contact their family and friends especially in the case of emergencies. Telecomm operators and digital services dependent on mobile Internet for their service delivery also lose out on millions of rupees in revenue.

Arbitrary network shutdowns are a severe violation of the fundamental human rights of Pakistani citizens, said Asad Baig, the Executive Director of Media Matters for Democracy.

“We do not support any political party or group, but we believe the caretaker government must respect the people’s inviolable right to communicate,” Mr. Baig said. “We urge the caretaker government to avoid switching off mobile phone services now or at any time before the elections on 25 July.”

Mr. Baig said the government should look to other possible legal means to ensure the safety or security of the residents

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