Bytes for All urges government to clarify reports of mobile shutdown in Islamabad

Islamabad, March 11, 2015: Bytes for All, Pakistan is extremely concerned about an alleged order by Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), directing telecom service providers in the country to enforce an unprecedented 13 day suspension of mobile phone services in Islamabad. A reliable source within the telecommunication industry has told Bytes for All that the directive issued asks them to shut down mobile networks from March 11-23, 2015 within a 5 kilometer radius of the site for 23rd March National Day Parade. This directive has been reportedly issued to thwart terrorist attacks on the military parade that will be held on 23rd March to mark the Pakistan Day.

The planned venue for the parade is reported to be in Shakarparian National Park, opposite sector I-8, and if the claims of the mobile blackout are true, then it would include sectors I-8, I-9, H-8, H-9, G-8, G-7 and northern parts of Islamabad's twin city Rawalpindi. This area covers a number of densely populated residential and commercial areas, as well as Islamabad’s busiest hospital, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).

Bytes for All reached out to multiple officials at PTA, however, was unable to obtain a direct confirmation or denial of the reports. Bytes for All, also contacted a number of mobile phone users in sector I-8, who confirmed being affected by mobile service disruption and said that their network signals have disappeared since morning (of March 11). The service had not resumed at the time of the release of this statement.

A number of Islamabad residents also complained of the network outage on their social media accounts today, some of which are reproduced here.

Bytes For All urges the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and other government bodies to clarify the veracity of the reports and explain the reason for today's network outage.

"We certainly hope that the reports are untrue,” said Bytes for All country director Shahzad Ahmad. "However, given how often the government has ordered network outages in the past, it would not be out of the ordinary if today's report turns out to be correct."

"We would like to remind the government that blanket restrictions on communication under the guise of security are not only in violation of human rights, but there is also no evidence to show that it is an effective counterterrorism tool.”

Bytes for All believe that shutting down the mobile phone network (Kill switch) is not a solution for any country combatting terrorism. Such shutdowns negatively impact a range of social, economic, cultural and fundamental rights. Blocking cellular services, especially at a time, when security threats are reportedly high, can leave people stranded and unable to call emergency services if need arises. Blocking of cellular services negate the constitutionally guaranteed rights to communications and furthers insecurity. In 2013, the 'kill switch' had cost cellular mobile operators approximately Rs. 6 billion in revenue losses, highlighting the economic cost of Kill Switch strategy. 

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About Bytes for All, Pakistan
 
Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization and a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening social justice movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”. www.bytesforall.pk
 
For more information:
 
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan
 
email: info[at]bytesforall.pk
Tel. +92 51 2110494-9