Islamabad to Celebrate Independence Day by Shutting Down Communication Channels

Islamabad, August 13, 2015: Mobile phone users in several parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi woke up on Thursday morning to find that they were unable to make calls, send text messages or use mobile Internet services on their cell phones as they were not receiving any signals from their telecom service providers. In at least some cases, this extended to Internet Services provided by ISPs that use a wireless rather than landline network.

Bytes for All, Pakistan strongly condemns this network disconnection ordered by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) across the federal capital on the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day under the guise of providing security to a flag hoisting ceremony. Bytes for All said this creates a sense of panic and insecurity amongst the public, and reflects poorly on the capabilities of the country’s security apparatus.

While most mobile users did not receive any advance warning from their service providers about the network outage, one Mobilink customer reported to Bytes for All that their telecom provider had sent a message on Wednesday night saying that “as per PTA directive your service will be temporarily unavailable from 6:30AM to 12:30PM on Aug 13 and 14 both days.”

On Thursday morning the official Twitter account of Zong Pakistan (a mobile service provider) responded to a complaint by a user, confirming that the reason for the shutdown is to “maintain security situation for Flag Hoisting Ceremony on Independence Day”.

@Utmanzval In order to maintaining security situation for Flag Hosting Ceremony on Independence Day,

— Zong (@Zongers) August 13, 2015

This network outage fits the government’s past trend of suspending mobile networks on national holidays using the excuse that it will help curb terrorism threats.

For example, in the days leading up to Pakistan Day on March 23 this year, mobile services were shut down in parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, especially those areas close to the newly constructed parade ground in Shakarparian National Park. The reason given then was to prevent terrorism while the military holds rehearsals for its planned parade on Pakistan Day.

Bytes for All has documented scores of previous government-ordered network shutdowns in Pakistan on its www.KillSwitch.pk website.

“Shutting down mobile communications across the federal capital at a whim is a violation by the government of several fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, including the freedom to access information, freedom of speech expression, and freedom to trade,” said Shahzad Ahmad, country director of Bytes for All, Pakistan. “It is extremely ironic and telling that the government is trampling on these freedoms in order to hold a ceremony to celebrate our country’s independence.”

“Mobile services are no longer used by just a handful of individuals, but is now an essential and irreplaceable resource for millions of Pakistanis to urgently share information and conduct business,” he said. “There is absolutely no convincing evidence to show that the suspension of mobile networks has any effect on reducing terrorism, and if the government wants to continue doing this it needs to make its case by presenting some evidence to the public. Even then, it is unacceptable to shutdown the network like this without informing the public in advance so that they can make preparations.”

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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