IHC issues notice to PTA for blocking political party’s website

Published February 19, 2019
CJ admits AWP petition, asks PTA to submit response at next hearing.— Photo courtesy of PTA
CJ admits AWP petition, asks PTA to submit response at next hearing.— Photo courtesy of PTA

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court has issued a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in response to a petition filed by the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP) against the blocking of its official website.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah admitted the petition for regular hearing following issuing arguments on its maintainability. The PTA has been asked to submit its response at the next hearing.

AWP’s website was blocked just ahead of the 2018 elections. The party has filed a complaint with the Election Commission (ECP) and the PTI, but the website continues to be blocked by most internet service providers (ISP) throughout the country.

AWP General Secretary Akhtar Hussain, through his counsel Mohammad Haider Imtiaz and Umer Ijaz Gilani, filed the petition in the IHC, making the PTA a respondent.

CJ admits AWP petition, asks PTA to submit response at next hearing

In addition to asking for its website to be unblocked, the party urged the court to direct the PTA to guard citizens’ fundamental rights in online spaces and exercise its powers to block content online strictly in accordance with the law.

The website was blocked in June 2018. The party claims it was blocked to sabotage their election campaign.

The petition contends that the blocking was the result of censorship against dissenting views, citing reports by the Digital Rights Foundation and the Observatory of Online Network Interference.

The party has approached various forums since, including the PTA, ECP and the relevant ISPs, but has not been granted any relief so far.

The AWP said it has filed a writ petition as a last resort while their website remains inaccessible. The petition places reliance on the 2018 IHC judgement against shutting down telecommunication networks.

In that judgement, then judge Athar Minallah had taken notice of the telecommunication network shutdowns carried out by the PTA.

Furthermore, it is mandatory for the PTA to give reasoned orders in relation to the blocking of online content, against which statutory remedies have also been provided by law.

According to the PTA’s 2018 Annual Report, which the petition cites, the authority has blocked 800,000 websites at present. In almost no case have the requirements of the aforementioned legal provisions been complied with, an AWP press release said.

AWP’s official website – awamiworkersparty.org – became inaccessible to many users in Pakistan, on various networks, last year. Visitors to the website were told the “website is not accessible” as it contained “content that is prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan”. The website is accessible outside the country.

The AWP said blocking the website of a legally registered political party violates the fundamental rights to association and expression, protected by the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019

Opinion

Editorial

Militancy redux
Updated 12 Aug, 2022

Militancy redux

There is fear and confusion all around, and it is for the state to bring clarity to the situation.
Distorting history
12 Aug, 2022

Distorting history

WHEN history is co-opted by ideologically overzealous elements, expect the facts to die a quick death, and...
Dengue danger
12 Aug, 2022

Dengue danger

WITH rains continuing across most of the country, a dengue outbreak can quickly become a major headache for health...
Khorasani’s killing
11 Aug, 2022

Khorasani’s killing

OMAR Khalid Khorasani, a dreaded TTP ‘commander’, lived by the sword and very much died by the sword. But beyond...
Gross overreaction
Updated 11 Aug, 2022

Gross overreaction

The government has already done considerable damage to itself with its indelicate handling of the situation.
Dadu deaths
11 Aug, 2022

Dadu deaths

DISEASES that are usually mild and preventable in countries with developed healthcare systems often prove to be...