ISLAMABAD: A petition has been filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the government initiative to control the social media.

The federal cabinet has recently passed rules to regulate the social media.

The petitioner advocate Ahsan Satti filed the petition through his counsel Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon.

The petition pointed out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, declared that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The petition said that level of freedom to communicate freely within the society has a significant impact on societal development, strength of the democracy and the society per se. In the political context, freedom of speech is essentially an inalienable right of citizens to communicate about all sorts of political issues.

Petitioner terms new rules against fundamental rights guaranteed by Constitution

It further said that the Constitution guarantees basic freedom of speech to the citizen of Pakistan in Article 19. It only allows restrictions that are ‘imposed by law’.

While referring to the social media rules of other countries, petition stated that no democratic country worth naming has a strict media policy. There is hardly comprehensive law in any country that regulates all sectors of media. However, there are regulations that govern public sector players in the industry.

The petition went on to say that on January 28, 2020 the federal cabinet approved the “Citizen Protection (Against on Line Harm) Rules 2020 aimed at curbing the social media.

It said the rules approved to control the social media are against the basic and fundamental rights to information and these rules are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee in form of fundamental rights of citizen.

These rules directly address social media companies and require them to register and locate office inside Pakistan, particularly database servers in the country singling a definitive move towards data localization, the petition said, adding the main objective of the rules seems to be controlling the social media through indirect control by the government.

The petition alleged that the rules are ultra vires the constitution of Pakistan, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act, 1996.

Subsequently, it requested the court to set aside these rules since these are also contradictory to the Article 19 of International Convention on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its five protocols.

The petitioner cited secretaries cabinet division, information technology, information and broadcasting, law and justice and chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as respondents.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020