ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday issued a notice to the federal government in a case against the proposed Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020.
A divisional bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard a writ petition filed by a citizen Chaudhry Shafiq. The bench has already given the incumbent government, and law and justice and information and technology ministries till March 7 to submit replies in a similar petition that maintains that social media rules violate Article 19 and 19 (a) of the Constitution and terms it an attempt by the government to stifle dissent and free speech.
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”.
The PTI government’s social media rules garnered criticism from all quarters. The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology sought clarification from the Ministry of Information Technology for forwarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 to the cabinet without taking the panel into confidence.
US top diplomat for South Asia Alice Wells expressed concerns, saying the “new restrictions could be a setback to freedom of expression and development of digital economy”.
“Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/[with] stakeholders,” said Wells in a tweet from her official handle.
New restrictions on social media platforms in #Pakistan could be setback to freedom of expression & development of digital econ. Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/ stakeholders. AGW
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) February 25, 2020
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.”