06/24/2022

IHC Sends Social Media Rules, PECA’s Section 37 To Parliament For Review

May 11, 2022 – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has sent the Social Media Rules and Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 to the Parliament for review. Meanwhile, the Rules, introduced last year under Section 37 of PECA by the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, will remain suspended. 

On Wednesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah presided over the hearing of senator Farhatullah Babar’s petition and remarked that freedom of expression must be respected but it is not absolute. There are challenges, including hate speech, which need to be addressed, he added.

“Yesterday, they [Pakistan Peoples Party] were in opposition and today they are in power. Wouldn’t it be better if they made amendments [to the Rules] after consultation with the stakeholders?” questioned Justice Minallah. “This court has always believed that whoever is in the government should correct the matter themselves. The court has been witnessing everything happening to the right to free speech here.”

Justice Minallah told Babar that several similar applications are being heard in the court. These appeals will be combined and heard collectively. 

Justice Minallah added that everything should be stated clearly in the Rules and no one should be allowed to take advantage of things. He addressed Babar and said, “Your party is in the government and now is their test to put everything right in accordance with what they said while they were in the opposition.”  

Babar’s suggestion of forwarding the matter to the Parliament was welcomed by Justice Minallah. The court has issued notices to the Secretaries of Cabinet Division and Ministry of Information Technology and Communication (MoITT), as well as to the Chairperson of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). 

The petitioner has also been asked to submit questions to be posed to the Parliament. They will be incorporated in the court order.

The next hearing will take place on June 17, 2022.

The controversial Social Media Rules were notified by the MoITT in October 2021. Through these rules, the PTA attempted to make social media companies compliant with demands such as taking action against live videos on online platforms. The clause was challenged by civil society and global technology companies that said that Social Media Rules will make it difficult for these companies to provide services in Pakistan.

 

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