Islamabad, (April 11, 2020): In this difficult time, when Coronavirus is causing catastrophe all over the country, several parts of Balochistan and the tribal district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are facing an ongoing disconnection of telecommunication networks and lack of 3G and 4G data services, which is a grave cause of concern for Bytes For All (B4A), Pakistan.
B4A believes that under the current circumstances, denial of access to the Internet and related information and communications technologies is a violation of fundamental rights. Denial of services even if in the name of volatile security situation is still highly disproportionate and unreasonable, as it infringes upon range of fundamental human rights including right to information, health services, education, economic opportunities, expression, and others.
At this time, B4A joins the request by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) of unblocking 3G and 4G data services in Balochistan in order to facilitate students for their research and educational activities in the province.
PTA, in its recent letter dated April 6th, 2020, wrote to the Ministry of Interior and sought its approval for unblocking 3G and 4G data services in Kalat (including district Shaheed Sikanderabad), Sohrab, Awaran and Kech districts. The PTA request was result of Member National Assembly from NA 267 Balochistan, Syed Mehmood Shah’s application filed through Prime Minister’s Public Affairs & Grievances Wing, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
The legislator pleaded in the application that “the data closure in Balochistan has been causing hindrances in dissemination of life saving information and supporting students as they are unable to carryout research activities and online studies in these days of outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic.”
Unfortunately, for a long time, many districts of Balochistan province including Awaraan, Kech, Sohrab, Khuzdar, Sibbi, Qila Saifullah, Zhob have been facing network disconnections in the name of security. In remaining areas of the province, the mobile services are intermittent.
Similar disconnections are being observed in many tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as FATA including Kurram district. Owing to the difficulties faced by the students due to blocking of 3G and 4G services, a petition in the Islamabad High Court has been filed by a university student and a resident of Mirba Khail, Parachannar on April 8th, 2020.
B4A believes that restricting the access to the internet and data services in the name of security goes against the fundamental human rights, especially infringes on the civil and political liberties guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan.
In the prevalent situation of rising COVID-19 and the ongoing closure of schools, offices, businesses and other daily life activities, the whole world is largely relying on the internet and information and communication technologies. With ongoing disconnection, a large population is at an unfair disadvantage, which can be resolved quickly.
Bytes for All calls upon the Government of Pakistan to immediately unblock the telecommunication networks and restore high quality data services in these areas, ensuring affordability and quality of access to telecommunication services for the citizens of under privileged districts of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
Bytes for All also urge all telecommunication companies licensed under the laws of PTA to ensure their sincere efforts in bridging urban-rural digital divide by developing their telecommunication infrastructures to remote and far-flung areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.