PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court has sought reply from the federal government within a fortnight to a petition seeking complete ban on a popular video-sharing application TikTok as it had failed to stop uploading of ‘blasphemous and indecent’ material on it.

A bench consisting of Chief Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim and Justice Sahibzada Asadullah fixed June 20 for hearing request of the petitioner for interim relief seeking removal of all the objectionable material from TikTok till final disposal of the petition.

The petition is filed by a lawyer Imran Khan requesting the court to direct the respondents including the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and ministry of information to permanently ban TikTok in Pakistan on the continued, recurring and consistent breach of community guidelines which violated the Constitution of Pakistan, provisions of the Prevention of the Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), Rule 3 of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Contents Rules, 2021, and provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code.

He further prayed the court to direct the respondents not to allow such applications in future which affect moral and ethical values of the Pakistani people.

Petitioner claims ‘blasphemous and indecent’ material uploaded on app

Barrister Babar Shahzad Imran appeared for the petitioner and stated that while there were benefits of the social media, some social media platforms had opened the way to express anything disregarding decency, morality and the glory of Islam in countries like Pakistan.

He stated that the TikTok application, launched by a Chinese company, was a social media platform that allowed users to create, share and discover short-form videos.

He stated that as per current statistics, there were almost 54.4 million Pakistani users on the TikTok making it 7th amongst the top seven user countries.

He claimed that this platform had been used transgresses Islamic norms by disseminating anti-Islamic, anti-Prophet and his companions, vulgar, indecent, sectarian, and disrespectful content, thereby contravening the parameters delineated by the Constitution of Pakistan, PECA, PPC and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Contents Rules, 2021.

Referring to different past judgments of the superior courts and action taken by the government, Barrister Babar stated that in March 2021 the application was banned by the PTA on the order of the PHC.

He stated that after promises and commitments made by the company it was allowed to function but it overlooked the necessary measures to curb the actions that violated the laws of Pakistan.

He contended that TikTok, being a publicly accessible application, had failed to adequately optimize its system to proscribe such criminal, hateful, unethical, and vulgar content.

Moreover, he said, it had failed to enforce a complete ban on such content, thereby breaching its own content policy and serving as a prominent platform for such objectionable entities.

The counsel contended that the application lacked the capability to authenticate the true identity of users, relying solely on user-provided data which could be falsified. Consequently, he said, the application could be accessed by underage individuals, leading to adverse effects on their overall mental health and thought processes.

He stated that sections 295-A and 295-C of the PPC outlined legal provisions aimed at protecting religious sentiments and the sanctity of religious figures in Pakistan. He added that these prescribed harsh penalties for those who engaged in deliberate acts intended to insult or defile religious beliefs or figures, reflecting the importance placed on religious sensitivity within the legal framework of Pakistan.

The counsel claimed that TikTok had become a leading actor in disregarding the community guidelines as directed and regulated by Pakistan and this factor had been observed and held by the PTA and courts of Pakistan from time-to-time.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2024

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