Govt stands firm on X clampdown citing 'national security concerns'

MoI asserts X ban complies with Article 19; stresses platform propagates hate speech against national institutions

Our Corresponent July 08, 2024


The Ministry of Interior (MoI) on Monday argued in the Sindh High Court (SHC) that banning social media platform X (formerly Twitter) was the only recourse against violations of Pakistani laws.

Access to the social media giant has been blocked since Feb 17 following the allegations of rigging during the Feb 8 general elections.

Ban was imposed after an elections officer in Rawalpindi, Liaqat Ali Chattha, publicly claimed to have allegedly changed election results in his area on social media.

Today, in a response submitted to the court, the MoI asserted that the ban on X does not contravene Article 19 of the Constitution. It stressed that the platform has been used to upload hate speech against national institutions, prompting concerns about national security and dignity, and reports from sensitive agencies.

"All legal requirements were fulfilled before imposing the ban on X. Article 19 allows freedom of speech, but it also entails certain legal restrictions."

According to the constitution of Pakistan, Article 19 talks about the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

"The petition is not admissible," the ministry stated, emphasizing its responsibility to protect the rights of Pakistani citizens.

The ministry highlighted that X, a foreign company, has repeatedly flouted local laws.

It is worth noting that on April 18, Social media platform X said it would work with the Government of Pakistan "to understand its concerns" after authorities insisted an ongoing two-month ban was based on security grounds.

"The Ministry of Interior had no alternative but to immediately suspend X on February 17 due to its failure to comply," the response detailed.

"X has not signed any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pakistan to adhere to local regulations," the interior ministry's report said.

The response noted that similar bans have been imposed on other social media platforms like TikTok, which were later allowed to operate after signing MoUs and ensuring compliance with Pakistani laws.

"Not only Pakistan, but other countries also impose occasional restrictions on social media for national interests."

The ministry urged the court to reject the petition in the interest of national security and the preservation of public order.

The X ban

Since February 17, accessing X (formerly Twitter) in Pakistan has required a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It wasn't until a month later that the government officially acknowledged the existence of a ban. However, Information Minister Attaullah Tarrar argued at the time that no official notification had been issued.

On March 4, The IHC fixed a hearing to address a petition filed by a citizen against the unofficial suspension of the social media platform X nationwide, Express News reported.

The petition, lodged in the Islamabad High Court by the citizen through legal representatives, seeks the court's intervention to lift the ban on X and reinstate its services fully.

The petitioner argued that the continuous suspension of X since February 17 violated Article 19 of the Constitution. The petition identified the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information as respondents.

On March 20 the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) presented a notification from a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) section officer to block access to X during ongoing proceedings at the Sindh High Court (SHC), challenging the restriction on X.

Subsequently, on April 17, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) filed a response with the Islamabad High Court (IHC), citing two grounds for this restriction: national security concerns and X's non-compliance with the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2021 (RBUOC Rules).

On the same day, the SHC ordered the government to restore access to social media platform X within a week.


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