ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday enabled the federal government to suspend mobile phone service on Pakistan Day and prior to the Pakistan Day parade along with other important occasions.

A two-member division bench of the IHC, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, heard an appeal filed by the federal government and stayed the single-member bench judgement that declared suspension of cellular services on important occasions in the name of national security illegal.

Earlier, IHC Justice Athar Minallah decided a petition filed by cellular company CM Pak and others against the suspension of cellular services on important days and declared: “The federal government or the [Pakistan Telecommunication 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) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

By invoking this section, the federal government suspends cellular services during protests, sit-ins, Muharram, Rabiul Awwal, important funerals, Chehlum and sometimes during the Lal Masjid cleric’s sermons.

Stays single-member bench judgement that declared suspension of cellular services on important occasions in the name of national security illegal

The court observed that “it can be invoked if there is a proclamation of emergency by the President of Pakistan”.

In a 15-page detailed judgement, Justice Minallah ruled that “the actions, orders and directives issued by the federal government or authority (PTA), as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of Section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction”.

The petitioners, CM Pak Limited and others, had asserted before the court that their fundamental rights were being violated when cellular services were suspended.

Petitioners contended that they were licence holders and got radio frequency spectrum through open bidding. The petitioner was being compelled by the PTA from time to time to suspend its services on the basis of mere apprehensions which on one hand infringes fundamental rights and on the other causes a breach of company’s obligations to the customers’ — that is to provide uninterrupted voice and data services.

Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana appeared before the court on behalf of the federation. He argued that the federal government was vested with the jurisdiction to issue policy directives under Section 8(2)(C) read with Section 54 (2) of the Act.

He requested the court to set aside the verdict and also sought suspension of the judgement till a final order on the appeal.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2018