Court seeks PTA explanation over TikTok ban

Updated 16 Oct 2020

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The counsel stressed that Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution guaranteed fundamental rights for free speech and access to information. — AFP/File
The counsel stressed that Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution guaranteed fundamental rights for free speech and access to information. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday sought an explanation from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for banning video-sharing application TikTok.

The court appointed Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) president Shehzada Zulfiqar, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Abid Saqi, journalist Mazhar Abbas and former information minister Javed Jabbar as amici curiae (friends of court) for assisting it in the matter, particularly regarding the question of alleged abuse of powers by the PTA vested under the Act of 2016 which consequently violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

Petitioner Ishfaq Jatt through his counsel Usama Khawar adopted before the court that he is a well-known athlete and that he has won the “World Championship of Kickboxing” in 2016 while representing Pakistan.

According to the counsel, the petitioner is aggrieved on account of actions taken by the PTA which has led to banning of internet-based application TikTok.

Petition says app provides platform to talented citizens to exercise right of expression and to demonstrate creativity

The petition says TikTok app provides a platform to talented Pakistani citizens to exercise the right of expression and to demonstrate creativity.

The counsel contended that the PTA actions were in violation of Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. It has been argued that despite the IHC directives vide order, dated Sept 12, 2019, in the Awami Worker Party (AWP) versus PTA case, the authority and the federal government had failed to fulfil their respective statutory obligations under subsection (2) of Section 37 of the Act of 2016 and thus the powers conferred under sub-section (1) ibid were being abused.

It may be mentioned that IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had in September 2018 disposed of the AWP’s petition and observed that the PTA cannot block any website without framing rules. The court had issued directive for framing and notifying the rules in three months.

Chief Justice Minallah had also ordered that “the PTA is definitely not empowered to pass an order or take action under Section 37 [of Peca] in derogation of the mandatory requirements of due process”.

TikTok app has been banned by India on the ground of security concerns because it is owned by a Chinese company. The counsel contended that another judgement, dated July 24, 2020, regarding setting aside the ban on PlayerUnknown’s Battle­grounds (PUBG) — an online multiplayer battle royale game — has also been consistently violated by the PTA.

The counsel stressed that Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution guaranteed fundamental rights for free speech and access to information.

He stated that the petitioner was not against regulating the application but was aggrieved on account of prohibition imposed by the PTA that is in violation of the provisions of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.

He stated that TikTok app provides a source of income to many talented citizens, particularly belonging to marginalised classes, and that the abuse of the platform by a few did not justify imposing a ban.

After hearing the arguments, Chief Justice Minallah directed the PTA to nominate a senior officer for court’s assistance and sought explanation “why proceedings may not be initiated for violating the directions given by this Court in the aforementioned judgements and why the order of banning TikTok app may not be suspended”.

Further hearing in the case was adjourned till Oct 23.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2020