Pakistan blocks TikTok after ban by PHC

Published March 12, 2021
The company running the TikTok app said in a statement the app was maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment.
— AFP/File
The company running the TikTok app said in a statement the app was maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD / PESHA­WAR: As the Pakistan Tele­com Authority (PTA) on Thu­rsday directed internet service providers to immediately block access to TikTok, the short video sharing ent­er­tainment app has become inaccessible in the country.

The PTA said in a statement: “In respectful compliance to the orders of the Peshawar High Court, PTA has issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok App.”

The company running the TikTok app said in a statement the app was maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment.

“We use a combination of technologies and moderation strategies to detect and review content that violates our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines and we implement penalties including removing videos and banning accounts when there are violations,” the statement by TikTok said.

“Our H2 2020 Trans­pa­rency Report shows that we aggressively and proactiv­ely take down inappropriate content in Pakistan. This highlights our commitment to complying with local laws,” the company said.

“We have enhanced moderation capabilities in Pakistan, with our local-language moderation team growing close to 250 percent since September 2020. At the same time, TikTok is built upon the foundation of creative expression,” it said.

The company said it was working closely with the PTA to further strengthen safeguards on behalf of users. “But we are also committed to ensuring our users’ rights to express themselves creatively on the platform, in line with our policies.”

The company said its teams would work with the authorities, explain the app’s policies and demonstrate the dedication to user security that would allow TikTok to continue to serve the millions of users in Pakistan who had found a home for creative expression on the TikTok platform.

PHC ban

Earlier, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) imposed a temporary ban on functioning of TikTok in the country over a petition filed by several citizens stating that the contents shared on this application were in violation Pakistan’s constitution guaranteeing social and moral well- being of citizens.

A PHC bench comprising Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid and Justice Muhammad Nasir Mehfooz directed PTA Director General Tariq Gandapur to suspend operation of the application for a fortnight.

The DG informed the court that they had communicated with the company running TikTok for filtering objectionable contents on the app but the company had not given any positive response so far.

The PHC bench observed that if the company did not cooperate with the PTA and other agencies during the fortnight, the court would order placing a permanent ban on its app in the country.

The bench was hearing a petition jointly filed by 40 residents of Peshawar who had requested the court to direct the respondents, including the PTA and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to ban TikTok to the extent of violation of constitutional provisions which did not allow acts contrary to Islamic code of life.

The respondents in the petition were: federation of Pakistan through the interior secretary, ministries of law and justice and information, PTA chairman, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority through its chairman and FIA cyber crime wing.

Advocates Nazish Muzaffar and Sara Ali Khan appeared on behalf of the petitioners whereas on court notice, apart from the PTA DG, its director (legal) Jawad Akhter also turned up along with their counsel Jehanzeb Mehsud.

The chief justice observed that the court had earlier ordered the PTA to device a mechanism for filtering contents on TikTok, but so far the authority had failed to do so.

The bench observed that the videos uploaded on TikTok were not acceptable to the society and the app had been promoting immoral and vulgar contents.

The PTA DG said around 4.5 million videos were uploaded on the app across the world on daily basis and it was difficult to filter all those videos.

He said that without the support of the company running the app, regulating contents on TikTok was difficult.

The bench observed that they had been receiving regrettable reports about the app as it was ruining morals, mostly of the young generation.

The PTA DG said that the company had no office in Pakistan and it was running its affairs for Pakistan from Dubai.

The petitioners’ lawyers said a Chinese company namely Byte Dance had launched the controversial app in 2016 and subsequently introduced it world over.

They claimed that the youth in the country were not only wasting their precious time on this app, they had also crossed limits of morality.

They contended that the application had been promoting same sex relationship and youngsters had indulged in cross dressing in videos shared on this app to attract followers.

The petitioners’ lawyers claimed that the app was banned in Bangladesh and Malaysia because of its pornographic and inappropriate contents.

They contended that being a Muslim country if this app could not be banned completely in Pakistan at least it should be banned to the extent of inappropriate contents.

The petitioners contended that Article 19 of the Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression but it was subject to morality and decency and restrictions imposed under the constitution.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2021

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