August 17, 2018

Islamabad High Court takes up petition filed by rights activists challenging the legality of social media takedown during Faizabad Dharna; issues notices to PTA and the Federal Government

Islamabad, 13 March 2018: Islamabad High Court takes up the petition filed by Advocate Umar Gilani on behalf of the Asad Baig [the founder and director of Media Matters for Democracy] challenging the arbitrary takedown of social media and news websites on 25th November 2017 amid protests in the name of ‘law and order’.

The petition was filed by Advocate Umar Gilani of Law and Policy chambers in public interest on Thursday last week. Two months ago, a legal notice was also served to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority by Advocate Gilani on behalf of Asad Baig, noting the unnecessary and unproportionate actions taken by the Authority in the name of ‘maintaining law and order’ and asking the Regulator to tender a public apology for its unlawful actions. Nearly a month before that, Media Matters for Democracy had filed a Right to Information request asking for a copy of the order received by the PTA from Federal Government for the suspension of social media platforms and various news websites streaming live television, including that of Dawn, Samaa, Geo News, ARY and others.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority never responded to the said legal notice, and the information requests, following which the petition was filed in the Islamabad High Court on 8th March 2018.

The petition, ‘Asad Baig vs. the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information and Technology’, pray to the Court that the impugned order of PTA is declared illegal and that the PTA is restrained from committing any such unlawful actions in future.

Honorable Justice Aamer Farooq hearing the petition today has ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Federal Government of Pakistan to submit their responses in written within three weeks to justify the takedown of social media platforms and news websites.

Asad Baig, talking to the Digital Rights Monitor said that it’s extremely important to push back on this precedent. “The way social media and news websites were taken 0ffline was similar to the case of network shutdowns — the government did it once and then made it a regular practice — and unless we get it declared illegal, I am sure it’ll become a popular way to blackout information”.

It’s important to note here that in addition to the social media outlets, a number of news websites were blocked as well. These websites were mostly of broadcast media outlets which were also live streaming the television broadcasts.

Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and Bytes for All (B4A) recorded blocking of following news websites:

AS45595 2017-11-25 https://live.pakistantv.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 https://live.pakistantv.tv/channel-24-live-streaming/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://92newshd.tv/live/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://live.arynews.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://live.geo.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 https://www.samaa.tv/live/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://aaj.tv/live/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://live.abbtakk.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://waqtnews.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 https://www.dawnnews.tv/watch-live/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://dunyanews.tv/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 https://www.bolnetwork.com/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://live.express.pk/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 http://capital.tv.com.pk/ DNS blocking
AS45595 2017-11-25 https://www.suchtv.pk/ DNS blocking

Advocate Umer Gilani, speaking to the Digital Rights Monitor, said that the court has been pleased to issue notices to parties involved and that in the next hearing we are looking forward to hearing the responses of the federal government and the telecom regulator. He further said that now it’s upon the federal government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to justify the legality of their actions.

Advocate Gilani, his colleagues, and the public interest petitioners go the credit of getting arbitrary network shutdowns declared illegal in Pakistan. 

Written by

Asad Baig is an Islamabad-based journalist. He is the founder and the executive director of Media Matters for Democracy and the editor of Digital Rights Monitor. He tweets at @asadbeyg

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