23rd November 2021
According to sources privy to the incident, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had ordered the suspension of internet services in and around the Avari Hotel in Lahore during the closing ceremony of the Asma Jahangir Conference 2021 on Sunday, November 21, in which PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was supposed to make a live online address. About 40 seconds of his speech was livestreamed before internet services were shut down, and the three-time former Prime Minister continued his address via telephone.
According to an email available with Voicepk.net, the PTA’s Network Monitoring Cell told representatives of all internet service providers in the Pakistan that the department had been instructed by the “competent authorities” to close down all data services (3G/4G, WLL, DSL, and all fixed types) within a two kilometer radius of the Avari Hotel on the 21st of November. The email was received at 4:47pm, two hours before Sharif was to go live.
Per the PTA’s instructions, which ordered immediate suspension of data services at 4:45pm that evening, all cellular data services were halted. However, the organizers of the conference also had a direct optic fiber line which was unaffected.
Per a spokesperson for AGHS Legal Aid Cell, just minutes prior to Sharif’s speech was to go live, the PTA had called the internet service provider which had supplied the fiber optic connection to promptly shut down services, and threatened with serious disciplinary action on violation of orders.
When Voicepk.net contacted the PTA for their statement, the spokesperson for the Authority said he would give an official statement after confirming from the Home Ministry as to why internet services were suspended. However, per the email received by Voicepk.net, it is apparent that orders to shut down services were given by the PTA. The Authority has yet to get back, nor has issued an official statement on this incident, till the filing of this report.
At the time internet services were halted in the general vicinity of the Avari Hotel, numerous foreign dignitaries and ambassadors were in attendance and tweeting about the various topics discussed during the conference. Conference attendees had expressed their displeasure and worry when they could no longer access the internet, and demanded an explanation from the organizers as to who was responsible for this.
In an official statement, conference organizers the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP), the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and the AGHS Legal Aid Cell strongly condemned the suspension of internet services, terming it an attack on the freedom of speech.
It is to be noted that a number of important public and private buildings are located in proximity to the Avari Hotel, including the Governor House, the Lahore Press Club, the United States Consulate, and PTV’s Lahore office, where people faced severe difficulties due to halting of internet services.