ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Monday issued notice to the federation, and law, information and technology ministries in a petition challenging Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s social media policy.
After hearing the arguments, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah clubbed the plea with an ongoing case pertaining to media and the scope of Article 19 and 19 (a) of the Constitution.
Previously, a divisional bench had disapproved on-air discussions of sub judice matters in a contempt case against talk show hosts for implying that a ‘deal’ had been made to accommodate Nawaz Sharif’s bail plea.
PTI govt to revisit social media rules amid outcry
The petitioner’s counsel Jahangir Khan Jadoon maintained that the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 violated Article 19 and 19 (a) of the Constitution. He termed it an attempt by the government to stifle dissent and free speech.
Justice Minallah noted that most countries in the world have social media regulatory legislations.
Jadoon argued that the incumbent government’s policy empowered a national coordinator with more authority than even the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). “The coordinator can slap fines upto Rs500 million,” he informed the bench.
The counsel sought details of the criteria set for the appointment of the coordinator. He also lamented that the stakeholders were not consulted by the government before the drafting of the rules.
Justice Minallah observed that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already said the government was revisiting the social media rules. To which, Jadoon requested the high court seek a status report from the relevant authorities.
The bench issued notice to the federal government, and law and IT ministries clubbed the plea with a case on media regulation and adjourned the hearing till March 7.
Constitution of Pakistan
Article 19: Freedom of speech, etc
Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.
Article 19 (a): Right to information
Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.
Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020
The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, approved by the federal cabinet, requires all social media companies, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, to register within three months and establish their offices in Islamabad.
They will also have to create a data server in Pakistan within a year and block any account or prevent or remove any content that “violates or affects the religious, cultural, ethnic, or national security sensitivities of Pakistan” and is “involved in spreading of fake news or defamation”.
It may be mentioned here that PM Imran directed IT ministry to take stakeholders on board before implementing the social media rules.
“The social media rules are not aimed at silencing positive criticism and political dissent,” the premier sought to clarify while presiding over a meeting on the matter. “The only purpose of introducing the rules is to protect citizens. They’ve been prepared keeping in view the need for protecting children, minorities, and religious and national security sensitivities."