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Internet crawls as service restored after global outcry

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Internet crawls as service restored after global outcry

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KARACHI:

Despite the government’s claim of restoring mobile broadband across the country on Friday, the users faced difficulty in accessing social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority had taken down the service on Tuesday night for security reasons after violent protests erupted following the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

The shutdown resulted in a loss of economic productivity and digital services, including digital payments.

Owing to the suspension of the internet services, the telecommunication companies in Pakistan witnessed a loss of Rs2.46 billion in revenue, which also means a decrease of Rs861 million in tax revenue for the government as well.

According to an official of a telecom company, the mobile broadband services constitute around 60% of their total revenues. Therefore, on a daily-basis, they earn approximately Rs820 million. Additionally, the government receives around 35% of the revenue.

This calculation is based on the fact that the telecommunication companies earned roughly Rs500 billion from cellular services in the previous year. However, this is just an estimate from one industry. The overall economic loss to the country is likely to be massive.

The sudden suspension of the internet services, without a well-thought-out process, has caused life in the country to come to a standstill. The move has drawn widespread criticism from organisations like GSMA and Amnesty International. Many argue that this suspension is tantamount to a violation of fundamental rights.

The GSMA, a body that represents the interests of global mobile operators, etc., said that “alarmingly, the government has announced that the mobile internet shutdown is ‘indefinite’ which is a clear violation of the people’s right to access information and free expression”.

“The ban on the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also creates a permissive environment for other human rights violations under the darkness of the internet shutdown. The restrictions must be lifted immediately.” Rimmel Mohydin, regional campaigner at Amnesty International stated.

Today every aspect of the life in the country is connected with the online world. Businesses run their operations through online Enterprise Resource Management systems.

While the southern region, Sindh and Balochistan, and the side areas of the northern part of the country were relatively calm, they still experienced internet blockages.

The directive to halt the internet that came from the Ministry of Interior to the PTA was in violation of the law. The PTA comes under the Cabinet Division so any other authority should request the Cabinet Division to get the such job done.
“This was an important and big decision and therefore it should have been taken under a collective wisdom and not on the whims of a single minister,” said an industry expert.

Experts in the ICT sector argue that law enforcement authorities, instead of working hard to control the situation, showed laziness by resorting to easy solutions that harmed the economy.

Under PTA Chairman Maj-Gen (retd) Amir Azeem Bajwa, the PTA has been functioning more like an extension of a law enforcement agency rather than a technology-related institution that should promote and encourage internet, technology, and innovation.

IT Minister Aminul Haq, in several speeches and media interviews, had disagreed with the PTA’s behavior of restricting everything. He also expressed his disagreement when the PTA blocked Wikipedia and during a TV interview about the blanket internet blockage.

Head of Asia Pacific for the GSMA Julian Gorman wrote in a letter to the Minister of IT that they were concerned about the impact that the current restrictions are having on citizens and businesses in Pakistan.

“In today’s digital societies, individuals and businesses rely on connectivity for their livelihoods and access to essential services and information.”

“Prolonged restrictions can also have far-reaching effects on citizens’ health, education social and economic welfare,” Gorman said.

“In addition to the harm imposed on businesses, restrictions can have a knocked on credit and investment plans, ultimately damaging the country’s reputation for managing the economy and foreign investment,” he said.

Rimmel Mohydin, a regional campaigner at Amnesty International, called for urgent action to de-escalate the situation in Pakistan following violent protests, multiple deaths, and mass arrests.

Mohydin stated that the authorities should aim to defuse the situation and use no more force than necessary and proportionate. “Amnesty International urges Pakistani authorities to use minimum force and avoid the use of firearms to disperse protestors.”

Mohydin also expressed concern over the indefinite ban on mobile internet, which violates people’s right to access information and free expression. The ban on social media platforms creates a permissive environment for other human rights violations. Therefore, the restrictions must be lifted immediately.

Meanwhile, the Sindh High Court (SHC) issued notices to the PTA, federal government and others on a petition against suspension and restriction of internet services across the country. A two-member bench headed by SHC Chief Justice Justice Ahmad Ali Shaikh heard the petition against suspension and restriction of internet services across the country.

On Thursday, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also urged the Pakistani government to immediately restore internet services across the country and reduce tensions.

“I support de-escalation efforts and call for the immediate restoration of public access to internet services,” Senator Bob Menendez, on behalf of the committee, wrote in a statement issued on the body’s officials social media accounts.
“These shutdowns dangerously suppress the Pakistani people’s freedoms, including access to information,” he continued.

The committee expressed its concerns over the recent developments in Pakistan, saying that it was “closely monitoring” them.

Earlier on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel, in response to a question during a press briefing, termed the shutdown of the internet in Pakistan as a violation of the right to access information.

He added that the issues of human rights and press freedom were taken up with Pakistan. Responding to a query about the ongoing unrest in Pakistan, Patel said the US was closely monitoring the situation in the country.



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