On Monday, the Islamabad High Court issued a verdict on the suspension of mobile phone services by the government as illegal. The verdict was issued by Justice Athar Minallah after several petitions that challenged the frequent suspension of mobile phone service in the capital.
Islamabad residents had filed the petitions around March 23rd 2016 for their lives were greatly disrupted when the government ordered a shutdown of mobile services, purportedly for security reasons.
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The IHC order reads as follows:
“The actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority [PTA], as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) [of Pakistan Telecommunication Act 1996 ] are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction.”
“The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3),” the order further states.
The petitioners’ counsel Umer Gilani presented the argument to the court according to a local newspaper that the government cannot take cover under the “preference and priority” power as the power to suspend services has been given to federal government through a separate provision of law – sub-section (3) of the Section 54 of the Telecom Act.
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Furthermore he stated that the provision also provides that the power can only be exercised under the extraordinary situation when the president has issued a Proclamation of Emergency. Therefore, the suspension orders which are so casually issued by the federal government every now and then, especially in the twin cities, do not have any legal justification.
Cellular companies and various human right groups have applauded the decision taken by the Islamabad High Court. Bytes for All, an organization that works on the digital rights in the country issued an statement to the local news that read,
“We are pleased to cherish this moment of triumph and share it with digital rights community inside Pakistan and across the globe.”