Islamabad: Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday issued notice to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and summoned the authority’s top officials on a petition seeking removal of the ban on Chinese video-sharing TikTok application.
The high court has also issued notice to Ministry of Information and Technology and the federal government in the case.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah questioned if the application was banned in the backdrop of any security concerns, and remarked that by this logic the internet in the country would have to be shut down if the application was banned in the name of security.
Chief justice further questioned as to which authority determined whether the content was moral or immoral.
Chief justice Athar Minallah was hearing a petition filed by World Champion of Kickboxing and five-time Mixed Martial Arts Champion.
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The court also appointed President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), journalists Mazhar Abbas and Javed Jabbar as amici curiae in the case to assist the Court on banning of online platforms and implications for Freedom of Expression and Speech and Right to Access to information under Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution and misuse of PECA 2016 and to consider how can freedom of expression, speech and access to information be curtailed by PTA on vague criteria of immoral and decent content.
Advocate Usama Khawar, counsel for the petitioner appeared before the bench and argued that the arbitrary ban imposed on TikTok was part of a broader trend where the State during recent times had clamped down on platforms and means of online speech and expression.
Chief Justice also summoned Senior PTA official to explain as to why the contempt proceedings should not be initiated against PTA officials for not complying with Court’s earlier order, in Awami Worker’s Party case wherein PTA was directed to frame rules for exercising its powers under PECA 2016.
The petition of Pakistan’s athlete Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt, who is also twelve-time National Champion of the Wushu Kung-Fu stated that he had been associated with the field of Mixed Martial Arts for last 20 years and that he was a celebrated athlete.
The Federation of Pakistan, Ministry of Information and Technology and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are made respondents in the application.
The application stated that the petitioner had also served as Senior Vice President Pakistan Kickboxing Federation won the World Champion of Kickboxing in 2016 while representing Pakistan.
Jutt has been running Private Martial Arts Training Club where he trains and instructs the citizens, particularly the youth and preach the benefits of engaging in the physical sports and self-defence, especially kickboxing. Jutt has also been training the Young enthusiast of Kickboxing.
He has been using TikTok as a platform to promote his skills and club, which naturally promotes his business and provides an opportunity to earn a living. His income has increased tenfold after using this platform. However, due to the unlawful arbitrary ban imposed by PTA on TikTok the Petitioners business is seriously affected.
Expressing concern over the arbitrary ban on Constitutional grounds, the petitioner has requested the Court to declare the ban imposed ultra vires the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996, the fundamental rights of the citizens secured in the Constitution, namely, right to access to information and freedom of expression, right to life and economic liberty, the right to be heard & principles of Natural Justice.
According to Advocate Usama civil society, rights watchdogs, journalists, activists, and global internet giants have opposed this unregulated practice of regulating social media.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed its concerns that the authorities want to use the regulations to control the “freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting “religious, cultural, ethnic, and national security sensitivities”.
It is stated that the ban violated section 37(3) of the PECA 2016 as the PTA has exercised authority without the directions of the Federal Government.
The applicant prayed before the high court to issue directives to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to immediately remove the ban on TikTok.
It is further prayed before the Islamabad High Court to issue directions to the telecommunication authority to provide a reason with regards to its decisions and directions.
The petitioner further requested the court to issue directions to ensure the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizen.