Bangladesh halts new SIM card sale in Rohingya camps

Rohingya refugees wait to get their mobile phones charged at Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, where mobile phone retailers have been told not to sell any new SIM cards, in this October 7, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019
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Bangladesh halts new SIM card sale in Rohingya camps

  • It is a further sign of Dhaka’s impatience following the latest failed repatriation move
  • Bangladesh has been hosting around a million Rohingya refugees in vast camps

DHAKA: Bangladesh mobile operators have on government orders stopped selling new SIM cards to Rohingya refugees, officials said Monday, in a further sign of Dhaka’s impatience following the latest failed repatriation move.
Bangladesh has been hosting around a million Rohingya refugees in vast camps in the south-east since a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar prompted a huge exodus in August 2017.
In late August a repatriation initiative fell flat with the long-oppressed minority refugees refusing to return to Myanmar without guarantees for their safety and for citizenship.
Adding to frustration in Dhaka, this was followed by a protest by some 200,000 Rohingya to mark two years since their arrival.
There has also been a spike in violence and a rise in tensions with locals, and authorities fear Internet and telephone access could contribute to further unrest.
Bangladeshi security forces have shot dead at least 34 Rohingya over the past two years, mostly for alleged methamphetamines trafficking. Rights groups accuse police of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulator on September 3 ordered phone companies to cut off mobile access in the three dozen refugee camps, citing security grounds.
The four mobile phone operators were given seven days to submit reports on actions they have taken to shut down data connectivity and were ordered to stop selling SIM (subscriber identity module) cards in the camp areas.
“Already, SIM card sale has been stopped in the camp areas,” S.M. Farhad, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), which represents all mobile phone operators, said on Monday.
He said high speed third- and fourth-generation (3G and 4G) mobile Internet connections in the region has also been suspended between 5:00PM and 6:00AM every day.
The operators also restricted coverage to within Bangladesh following allegations that Rohingya over the border in Myanmar were using the networks, he said.
Mohammad Abul Monsur, police chief at Ukhia town where the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong, is located, confirmed the development, saying mobile phone retailers have been told not to sell any new SIM cards in the region.
“No new SIM cards are being sold in Ukhia,” he said, adding police have monitored the town the last two days.
Bangladesh has in the past tried to restrict mobile access but it was not enforced seriously, spawning booming markets of mobile phones and SIM cards in the camps.
The latest ban has stunned the refugees, with leaders saying it would hugely affect their life and security, disrupting communications between different camps and with Rohingya still in Myanmar.
Rights group Human Rights Watch on Saturday urged the government to end the communications clampdown, saying it “made matters worse.”
“The authorities should take a level-headed approach instead of overreacting to tensions and protests by isolating Rohingya refugees in camps,” HRW said.


UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

Updated 12 min 5 sec ago

UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

  • Government says a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law
  • Opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament

LONDON: The British government was back at the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament just weeks before the country is set to leave the European Union was neither improper nor illegal.
It’s the second day of a historic three-day hearing that pits the powers of Britain’s legislature against those of its executive as the country’s scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms over its political landscape and its economy.
Government lawyer James Eadie argued that a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law. Eadie called the decision to shut down Parliament “inherently and fundamentally political in nature.”
He said if the court intervened it would violate the “fundamental constitutional principle” of the separation of powers between courts and the government.
“This is, we submit, the territory of political judgment, not legal standards,” Eadie said.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accuse Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 departure from the EU. He claims the shutdown was a routine measure to enable his Conservative government to launch a fresh legislative agenda and was not related to Brexit.
Eadie rejected claims that the prime minister was trying to prevent lawmakers from blocking his Brexit plans.
He said “Parliament has had, and has taken, the opportunity to legislate” against the government, and would have more time between Oct. 14 and Brexit day. He said even if Parliament didn’t come back until Oct. 31, “there is time” for it to act on Brexit.
The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. But many economists and UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing. Members of Parliament have put obstacles in Johnson’s way, including a law compelling the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t get a divorce deal with the EU.
Parliament’s suspension spared Johnson further meddling by the House of Commons but sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts gave contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the move was a political rather than legal matter but Scottish court judges ruled Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right. The justices will give their judgment sometime after the hearing ends on Thursday.
A ruling against the government by the 11 Supreme Court judges could force Johnson to recall Parliament.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal remained “very real” because Britain had not produced workable alternatives to the deal agreed upon with the EU by ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May. That deal was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign and bringing Johnson to power in July.
“I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made.”
Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told members of the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, that a no-deal Brexit “might be the choice of the UK, but it will never be ours.”
The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a non-binding resolution supporting another extension to the Brexit deadline if Britain requests it.
Any further delay to Britain’s exit — which has already been postponed twice — needs the approval of the 27 other EU nations.
Johnson has said he won’t delay Brexit under any circumstances — but also says he will respect the law, which orders the government to seek an extension if there is no deal by Oct. 19. He has not explained how that would be done.