Citizen petitions IHC against ban on govt officials’ social media accounts

Updated 25 Dec 2019

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Petition said that government officials around the world use social media to interact with the public directly and Pakistan is no exception. — AFP/File
Petition said that government officials around the world use social media to interact with the public directly and Pakistan is no exception. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A petition has been filed in the Islamabad High Court against an interior ministry notification banning social media accounts belonging to senior capital administration officials.

The petition was filed by a citizen, Mohammad Awais, on Tuesday. It asked for the notification, which was sent to the heads of the ministry’s 22 subordinate organisations across the country, to be set aside.

Just hours after the petition was filed and news of it was aired on electronic media, the Islamabad deputy commissioner stated on his official Twitter account that he had been “directed to resume online interaction with the citizens of Islamabad to facilitate complaint redressal, disseminate information, raise awareness [and] solicit feedback from public to improve governance.”

The petition cited the ministries of interior and law and justice, as well as the interior secretary, as respondents. It stated: “While issuing the above said notification respondents also deleted the social media accounts of the government officers including DC Islamabad, which is a clear violation of the Article 19 (Freedom of Expression) of the constitution of Pakistan.”

Islamabad DC’s Twitter account reinstated hours after petition was filed

The petition said that the deputy commissioner’s Twitter account was helping the public by immediately taking action on complaints shared on Twitter by local residents.

It said that government officials around the world use social media to interact with the public directly and Pakistan is no exception. The petition said that Prime Minister Imran Khan, the prime minister of India, the Inter Services Public Relations director general and authorities in the United States and Russia use Twitter to keep people up to date with developments.

The Dec 16 notification banned government officials’social media accounts. It stated: “The minister for interior has directed that no officer/official should interact with media (print/electronic) nor upload any official’s view/comment on social media or any other channel of information, except with the formal and written approval of the secretary interior or head of the attached department/organisation, as the case may be.”

The notification was sent to the heads of 22 subordinate organisations, among them the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency, the national coordinator of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, the directors general of the Pakistan Rangers in Sindh and Punjab, the directors general of the Frontier Corps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the commandant of the Frontier Constabulary in Peshawar and the director general of the Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts.

Other officials on the list are the Islamabad chief commissioner, inspector general of police Islamabad and the chairman of the Capital Development Authority. The notification has also banned the Islamabad mayor, an elected representative, from interacting with the media.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2019