IHC Directs Experts to Review Constitutionality of New Social Media Rules

November 22, 2021 – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has directed experts to review the constitutionality of newly notified Social Media Rules. The Court has appointed experts and stakeholders as amicus curiae, including Sadaf Khan, Nighat Dad, Farieha Aziz, Rafay Baloch, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Pakistan Bar Council, and sought a report in the next hearing.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that Social Media Rules will be evaluated against the international practices to see whether they are consistent with these international standards or not.

While the new Rules have been notified, the Court has said that the appointed experts would help the Court in evaluating whether the Rules violate any law or the Constitution. In addition, the Court asked the Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud who was present in the courtroom during the hearing, about the addition of the contempt of court in the Rules and inquired whether he is aware of the correlation between freedom of expression and contempt of court. Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the contempt of court is only relevant when there is an attempt to influence the delivery of justice, just writing something about a judge is not contempt of court.

During the hearing, while addressing the lawyer representing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Court asked why the Authority banned TikTok and then unbanned it? The Authority has not satisfied the Court as to why TikTok was shut down. The Chief Justice remarked that we thank the PTA for complying with the law and unbanning the application to access in the country. He said that the world is advancing and problems cannot be solved by imposing restrictions.

Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud also briefed the court on the details of consultation with stakeholders on Social Media Rules. He said that the Prime Minister had formed a committee comprising of Dr. Shireen Mazari, Malika Bukhari among others, to take up multistakeholder consultations and the Attorney General co-hosted these meetings.

The Committee hosted 19 meetings with 30 stakeholders where every person in consultation was heard, and then the Social Media Rules were also uploaded on the website for feedback through which both national and international stakeholders including Facebook, Google, Twitter and others were also consulted.

The Islamabad High Court has directed all experts to compare the new Social Media Rules with international practices and give their opinion in writing within one month and adjourned the hearing till January 6, 2022.

Mishaal is a Project Coordinator at Media Matters for Democracy. She is a Public Policy graduate with past experience as content strategist and research writer. Her main areas of interest are political science, world history, and public policy.

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