Unending inconvenience : Court petitioned against suspension of phone services

They maintain that the arbitrary suspension of mobile service by PTA was unconstitutional

Our Correspondent April 24, 2016


Four people have filed a joint petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against frequent suspension of mobile phone service in the federal capital.

The petitioners through their counsel, Umer Gilani have urged the court to declare the suspension of mobile telecom services illegal as it had badly affected their lives, citing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) moves during the last ten days of March.

The petitioners have made the PTA, Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications secretary, and chief executive officers of three major private telecom service providers as respondents.

The counsel said that Masooma Hassan, the leading petitioner was a professional who commuted daily between Rawalpindi and Islamabad for work.

“While she is at work, the mobile phone is her only means of communication with her seven-year-old daughter,” the counsel contends.

Gilani says that Waqar Ahmad, another petitioner, is a migrant worker, who is unable to talk to his wife and parents living in a mountainous village in Kaghan Valley for months, if the phone service is suspended.

Muhammad Zohaib and Ahmed Raza, two other petitioners, have also sought court’s intervention into the matter.

The mobile phone services remained suspended during the sit-ins, Muharram, Rabiul Awal, Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral and chehlum, and lately on Fridays during Lal Masjid cleric’s sermons.

The citizens face great difficulties when the mobile phone services are suspended.

The petitioners complained that not only did the mobile phone shutdown adversely affect their ability to communicate with their families, it also put the entire citizenry in a seriously hazardous position.

“Had anyone faced medical or other emergencies during the time their phones were suspended, lives could have been lost,” said a petitioner.

They maintain that the arbitrary suspension of mobile service by PTA was unconstitutional because it violated the fundamental right to telecommunication, which was derived from the articles, 4, 9, 10-A, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 19-A of the constitution and various Supreme Court verdicts.

The petitioners also allege that the PTA’s actions violated Section 54(3) of the Pakistan Telecommunications (Reorganization) Act, 1996.

Under this section of the act, mobile service can be suspended only when the president has proclaimed an emergency in the country.

Gilani said that the petitioners could not do anything to reverse the dependence of the society and its emergency services on mobile telecom services.

However, he said, the government and law enforcement agencies under its control could conveniently deal with internal security issues such as rallies through use of less intrusive technologies such as jammers.

Such technologies are already in use in the premises of the superior courts, Gilani said.

The counsel told The Express Tribune that after the global information and communication technology revolution, telecommunication must be recognised as a fundamental right.

Today, he said, more than 70 million Pakistanis used mobile phones and almost 10 million of them rely on it for money transfer.

When the state orders an arbitrary shutdown of such essential service, it adversely affects the lives of a lot of people, he said, adding that was why the petitioners had challenged this policy to protect public interest.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th,  2016.


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