IHC raises serious questions over new social media rules

By: News Desk      Published: 01:26 PM, 4 Dec, 2020
IHC raises serious questions over new social media rules

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday raised serious questions over the social media rules approved by the government and observed that criticism was essential to a democracy, reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, who was hearing the matter, warned of serious consequences. Banning criticism in the 21st century would result in serious harm [to the society and the country], he observed.

As Chief Justice Minallah expressed his anger, the counsel for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) tried to cite India as an example. However, the court stopped him from doing so.

“Don’t mention India here. We are very much clear that there is no violation of human rights,” he remarked and added that any wrong move or practice in India could not be replicated in Pakistan.

“Remember one thing,” the chief justice asked the PTA counsel. “There is a Constitution, there is a democracy here.” 

Who suggested to formulate such rules and which authority approved those, the chief justice asked and noted that criticism should be encouraged, not discouraged.

He noted that the objections raised by the Pakistan Bar Council were valid and observed that the rules represented a particular mindset.

Adjourning the proceedings till December 18, the chief justice directed the PTA counsel to satisfy the court on the next hearing that the recently-formulated social media rules were not in violation of Article 19 and 19-A.

The social media issue is under the IHC’s consideration since the ban imposed on PUBG and later on TikTok with the Pakistan Bar Council acting as amicus curiae in the matter.  

A petition has also been filed against the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 approved by the federal cabinet, which requires all social media companies 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”.

Moreover, political leaders and civil society have also voiced serious concerns over the move, describing an attempt to curb freedom of expression in the country.