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Justice Saeed advises telcos to show patience over cellular service suspension over 'minor issues'

April 26, 2019

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The counsel contended that the suspension of services ahead of a big event was comprehensible but the practice over minor issues was illogical. — Reuters/File
The counsel contended that the suspension of services ahead of a big event was comprehensible but the practice over minor issues was illogical. — Reuters/File

The Supreme Court on Friday took up a case against the suspension of cellular services in the country and directed the government to submit a reply apprising it of developments on the legislation front by the last week of June.

A two-member bench headed by Justice Azmat Saeed resumed hearing of the case. He remarked during the hearing that the court also does not wish for telecommunication services to be suspended over small or minor occurrences.

A telecommunication company's lawyer contended before the court that cellular services in Pakistan see routine suspensions over petty matters, including events such as political conventions or a foreign leader's visit.

He contended that the suspension of cellular services ahead of big events was understandable, but implementing this measure over minor issues did not seem logical.

The additional attorney general told the bench that legal advice had already been given to the government. He sought a month's time to get back to the government and to inform the court about the developments.

Justice Saeed advised telecommunication providers to exercise patience over the suspension of cellular services as, according to him, if "some terrorist incident [involving cellphone networks] takes place, a case under terrorism charges could be lodged against the head of the company.

"Let the law be amended and then we will take the matter up," Justice Ijazul Ahsan added.

Earlier on Feb 26, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had declared the suspension of mobile phone services on the pretext of "security concerns" illegal.

It is a common practice for mobile phone services to be suspended in Pakistan's cities on 'sensitive' religious events like Ashura and Eid Miladun Nabi.

Justice Athar Minallah, announcing a verdict reserved on September 21, 2017, on multiple petitions filed by a citizen and various telecommunication companies, had said that suspension of mobile phone services by the federal government and other authorities is illegal and tantamount to exceeding their authority.

The petitions had argued that suspension of mobile phones around major events is a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens and against the Telecommunication (Reorganisation) Act 1996.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had responded saying that it was the government that had issued the orders for suspension, while the federal government had defended itself by relying on Article 54 (2) of the Telecommunication (Reorganisation) Act 1996, which states: "During a war or hostilities against Pakistan by any foreign power or internal aggression or for the defence or security of Pakistan, the federal government shall have preference and priority in telecommunication systems over any license."