ISLAMABAD: As part of security measures for Ashura, the cellular networks and internet services have been suspended in different parts of Pakistan.
Through multiple sources, it has been confirmed that the partial network shutdown has affected different cities in Pakistan including Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore et al.
However, no official notification from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, PTA, is available with Digital Rights Monitor that could clearly explain the duration and particular areas of network shutdown across Pakistan.
The most affected area is Sindh where as per the request of Sindh Home Department, mobile phone services would remain suspended in different parts for three days from September 19-21, 2018 from 7AM till Midnight every day.
According to a captain in Careem Islamabad, the captains have been informed by the management that the cellular services would remain suspended in different parts of Islamabad September 20-21, 2018 from 9AM-9PM in G-6, G-7, G-8, G-9, F-6, F-7, F-11 and I-10.
Meanwhile, mobile phone services have been reportedly suspended in different parts of Lahore, including Model Town, Cantt, DHA, Mozang, Thokar. et al.
It is interesting to note that unlike in the past, where all mobile phone and internet services would remain suspended across Paksitan, it has been observed that in some areas in Lahore/Islamabad, people the scribe talked to have been able to use mobile internet and cellphone services of Pakistan Telecommunication Limited, PTCL, Ufone, Jazz/Warid. However, users of Telenor and Zong have told the scribe that they have been unable to make calls or use mobile internet since September 20, 2018/9th Muharram.
Earlier, the Islamabad High Court declared arbitrary network shutdowns illegal in February 2018, but the federal government got a stay on the decision through an intra-court appeal in March just before March 23 Parade celebrations. Since then, it has suspended cellular services on numerous occasions citing security concerns including on Pakistan Day (23 March), July 13th on the arrival of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore and on September 06 in Rawalpindi/Islamabad owing to Defence day celebrations.
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. Telecom operators and digital services dependent on mobile Internet for their service delivery also lose out on millions of rupees in revenue.
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.