Reports show that a large part of the country experienced network shutdowns during Ashura: rights activists

Image Courtesy: The News Tribe

Partial to complete network shutdowns reported in various cities across the country over multiple telecom networks. Reports collected and mapped by Media Matters for Democracy show the extent of network shutdowns.

Citing unforeseen security reasons, partial to complete network shutdown was experienced during the observance of Ashura on 8th, 9th, and 10th September across the country over multiple telecommunication networks. The network shutdowns during the observance of Ashura and other religious and national activities have become a regular practice.

Telecom subscribers in various parts of the country including Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi also complained about slow broadband speeds and throttling.

The data collected by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) through crowd-sourced reports shows that large parts of Sindh had partial to complete shutdown across all three days of the Ashura, i.e. from Sunday, September 8th to Tuesday, September 10th. Subscribers of various networks across Sindh also reported limited connectivity to the Internet.

Parts of the capital city Islamabad also had limited connectivity. Subscribers in Karachi also reported limited connectivity, while network coverage in Lahore was more widely available across all three days. Other districts in Punjab saw a complete or partial shutdown of the networks.

All 10 districts of Gilgit Baltistan also had complete network shutdowns. These were areas where previously sectarian violence has been strong and the security situation was tense.

The data collected by MMfD shows that large parts of the country were without mobile communication and Internet services for the better part of three days.

Speaking to Digital Rights Monitor, a representative of the Interior Ministry said that the Ministry had directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to shutdown networks during Ashura out of security concerns. The ministry asked for shutdowns in specific areas, which were identified as areas of concern by the district administrations in various cities.

Earlier it was reported that the Interior Ministry has asked for the suspension of cell phone and internet services in areas that the Ashura procession through. However, the notification was not made public and did not state the exact timings of the shutdown. This meant that people did not know what to expect and were unable to use these services without any prior notice.

Sadaf Khan, Director Programs and co-founder of MMfD, pointed to the inconvenience they caused to people adding, “There isn’t any clear research that shows, network shutdowns actually help with the security situation. And if the government is insistent that they need to use this a security tactic than it would help people to know that they will be deprived of essential communication tools a few days in advance. There is always confusion around the exact timings of it each year.”

Khan said that in creating the map this year MMfD had not only hoped to capture how wide the network shutdowns were but also inform people about which areas they should expect to be disconnected, so they could plan accordingly.

The issue of networks shutdown has become important in the past few years as their use by the government became more widespread. Last year in February, the Islamabad High Court passed a decision declaring network shutdowns illegal.  The court declared the suspension of services a violation of the fundamental rights of people. 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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