Image Courtesy: Trending Pakistan
The Interior Ministry of Pakistan, late Sunday night, confirmed issuing notices to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for partial network suspension due to security reasons on 9th and 10th Muharram.
According to an official in the Interior Ministry, the ministry directed PTA and asked for the shutdown of network services in specific areas. These areas were identified by the district administration and cellular services have been suspended by telecommunication companies in these areas for the security and safety of Muharram processions.
However, there are reports that cell phone services were not available in large part of cities in Punjab. According to these reports Faisalabad, Jhang, Multan, Rahimyar Khan, and Lahore saw limited connectivity on the 9th of Muharram. Similar reports are coming from different cities of Sindh.
Network shutdowns have become a regular practice during the observance of Ashura every year especially in sensitive areas across Pakistan.
There are reports that sensitive cities across Punjab and Sindh will observe a complete network shutdown on 10th Muharram contrary to interior ministry and PTA’s directions, which asks for a shutdown in specific areas only, due to security reasons.
There are, however, no concrete evidence available to demonstrate the effectiveness of network shutdowns in combating terrorism or any untowardly law and order situation.
“There is no evidence of network shutdowns being an effective measure of security. If anything, they contribute towards creating inconvenience for everyone. During Ashura processions, when people would prefer connectivity, this blocking of communication channels isn’t justified”, says Hija Kamran, a team member of Media Matters for Democracy, closely observing the status of network shutdowns around Ashura.
In a judgment on February 2018, the Islamabad High Court declared network shutdowns illegal. The court stated that the federal government cannot give directions for the shutdown of cellular networks without proper prior notification. It termed the suspension of services a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens’ of the country. The federal government, however, challenged the decision and was able to acquire an interim stay-order. The case is pending for further hearing.
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Muhammad Arslan is a journalist and a team member of Media Matters for Democracy. He writes regularly on issues related to media freedom, regulation, and digital rights.