ISLAMABAD-The Islamabad High Court (IHC) will Monday (today) resume hearing in a petition seeking access to internet in Parachinar district which was an Agency in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice AtharMinallah will conduct hearing of the petition filed by a petitioner who is a student belonging to District Parachinar which was an Agency in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Agency was merged as a District in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Previously, Syed Muhammad Tayyab Deputy Attorney General along with M. Riaz, Section Officer, Ministry of Interior on behalf of the Federation appeared before the court and sought some more time to submit para-wise comments in this matter. 

The IHC bench noted in its order, “However, it appears that there is no refusal on part of the Federal Government to extend the internet facilities to the inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas which now stand merged.”

“However, it appears that due to the exceptional conditions that had prevailed in the past, the respective Governments and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority may require time to develop the infrastructure in some affected areas,” added the IHC bench. 

The court continued that it is noted that merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with the province of KP and abolishing the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations are pivotal developments which have given the inhabitants protection of rights guaranteed under the Constitution. After suffering for decades, particularly due to lawlessness, insurgencies and mis-governance, peace has been restored. The restoration of peace and establishing writ of the State has been achieved because of the enormous sacrifices of the people of the merged areas, the Armed Forces and civilian authorities.

According to the court order, “The people of the merged Federally Administered Tribal Areas have suffered for decades and they were kept deprived from enjoying their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Now that security has been restored, it is the duty of the State to ensure that the people of the area are no more deprived from enjoying rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The authorities are expected to take all necessary steps in this regard.”

It maintained, “The importance of access to internet cannot be overstated. It is undoubtedly a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. Access to internet has become so vital that it inevitably affects the quality of life and thus its inaccessibility violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution. This Court, therefore, expects that measures would be taken to restore the facility of internet in the merged Federally Administered Tribal Areas at the earliest to enable the inhabitants to enjoy their fundamental rights.”

The petitioner stated in his petition that he is aggrieved because respondent no 1 (Ministry of IT) and respondent no 2 (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) have denied him and the general public the right of access to internet.

His counsel contended that access to internet is a constitutionally guaranteed right and is an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

He further argued that on account of lockdown, the students are required to have access to the internet. Therefore, he also argued that the students and the general public of the former FATA cannot be denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights by refusing to give access to internet.