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'Don't conduct elections if you want to suspend internet services', remarks SHC CJ

"When will you restore internet," questions SHC chief justice on intermittent social media, internet disruptions

By Amin Anwar
February 21, 2024
Sindh High Court Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi (right). — APP/File
Sindh High Court Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi (right). — APP/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) Wednesday censured the authorities over sporadic internet, social media disruptions and outages despite the court orders regarding uninterrupted internet services.

Hearing a case on the petition filed by Advocate Jibran Nasir on the suspension of internet and social media services, SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, while addressing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's (PTA) lawyer, said: "Internet kab chalaoge? (when will you restore the internet)"?

The chief justice's query comes as Pakistan has been witnessing intermittent disruptions in internet services coupled with difficulty in accessing social media platforms in recent weeks.

The country experienced a complete internet suspension on February 8 election day despite SHC's stay order directing the authorities to ensure uninterrupted internet access.

Renowned social media platform X, formerly Twitter, had been down for days with no official explanation given by the PTA.

Internet shutdowns directly contradict constitutionally guaranteed rights like freedom of information (Article 19-A), freedom of speech (Article 19), and freedom of association (Article 17). In its February 2018 ruling, the Islamabad High Court declared internet shutdowns against fundamental rights and constitution.

During today's hearing, the SHC chief justice lamented that people were not even allowed to contest the general elections.

"Don't conduct elections in the first place if you want to suspend the internet services," he remarked.

To this, the PTA apprised the court that the regulatory body is subordinate to the instructions issued by the Ministry of Interior and had suspended the internet services, on poll day, in response to intelligence agencies' reports.

When asked about what specific threats were communicated to the PTA, the regulatory body's lawyer underscored that the authorities do not brief the body on the details in this regard.

Meanwhile, the federal government maintained that the internet services were suspended in response to the requests by the provincial governments.

"Internet services were suspended due to national security [threats]," the lawyer said.

"Did the Sindh government ask you to suspend the internet?" questioned Justice Abbasi.

To this, the counsel for the Sindh government denied filing any such request and asked the court for more time to submit their response on the matter.

"Why are you making a mockery of yourself on a global level? It seems that all institutions including the judiciary have been rendered worthless," the chief justice remarked.

The court, while directing the federal and government to submit its response, then adjourned the hearing till March 5.