Notices Issued to Ministry and PTA Under the Petition Challenging Fourth TikTok Ban

July 30, 2021 – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has issued notices to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) regarding the fourth ban on the short video sharing application, TikTok, in the country.

The notices were sent in response to the petition filed by Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt who is a regular user of TikTok, through his counsels Mariam Farid Khawaja and Usama Khawar, which was filed after the PTA announced the blocking of the application throughout the country for the fourth time on July 21, 2021 through a press release on its website and cross-posted on its social media accounts.

The press release fails to mention the reasons for the ban, and mentions that it has done so in light of the provisions of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016. However, the petitioner posits that the ban is ultra vires, and violates “the fundamental rights of the citizens secured in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973,  and the doctrine of Legitimate Expectation under the Law.”

Advocate Mariam Farid Khawaja told the Digital Rights Monitor, “I presented the case [in the court] and told the judge that the petitioner’s livelihood is affected due to the ban.” She further added, “PTA has banned [the app] through a press release and not through a proper order,” which is the procedure prescribed under the law. She informs that the next hearing is scheduled for next week, but the date has not been communicated yet.

The petitioner challenged the TikTok ban before as well when PTA blocked the app in October 2020. Jutt, who is an athlete, an international mixed martial arts champion and the Senior Vice President of Pakistan Kickboxing Federation, wrote a letter to PTA, dated October 9, 2020, in response to its first ban on the same day, writing to the Authority that he is “profoundly committed to promoting the sports industry in Pakistan”, and that he is “deeply concerned about the chilling effect that such a ban could have on his ability to earn livelihood, his online speech, and fundamental rights and freedoms secured by the Constitution of Pakistan.”

Jutt filed his petition in Islamabad High Court challenging the ban on October 14, 2020 that was instated on orders of Lahore High Court in the country. This petition is also in the process of being heard in conjunction with multiple others challenging the content regulation authority of the PTA under the PECA and the controversial social media rules which are used as a legal basis for blocking and removing of online content. 

The PTA has banned TikTok on various occasions in the country on grounds of objectionable and immoral content on the app. However, the app was “conditionally restored” ten days after the first ban as a result of a negotiation between PTA and TikTok management to remove objectionable content from the platform.

TikTok’s first transparency report for July 2020 – December 2020 highlights that it removed around 3 million videos from Pakistan for violating Community Guidelines of the platform, out of which the system removed 98.2 percent of these videos before users reported them, and 89.4 percent videos were taken down before they received any views. Whereas, the transparency report covering the first quarter of 2021 reveals that between January and March this year, the company removed over 6 million videos from Pakistan, out of which around 15 percent were adult nudity and sexual activities.

Hija is the Senior Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She leads digital rights and internet governance advocacy at MMfD. Tweets at @hijakamran

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