November 21, 2021 – Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has lifted the ban on the short video sharing application TikTok after four months of it being banned in the country. In a tweet posted on Friday, November 19, the Authority announced that it “has restored the services of TikTok on assurances of the platform to control immoral / indecent content.”
Press Release: PTA has restored the services of TikTok on assurances of the Platform to control immoral / indecent content.
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) November 19, 2021
The ban on TikTok was imposed on July 21 for the fourth time in the past 15 months for the company’s failure to take down inappropriate content from the platform. The app was banned in Pakistan for the first time in October 2020 for the same reason, which was unbanned in 10 days after a series of communication between the PTA and ByteDance – the parent company of TikTok, to come to agreement to remove “objectionable” content from being accessed in the country. However, Peshawar High Court (PHC) ordered the ban again in March 2021 after a petition signed by 40 residents moved the Court to take action against the said content. This ban was lifted on April 1 after the reassurance from the company that the content will be removed. The third ban on TikTok was ordered by Sindh High Court (SHC) on June 28 where the Court said that the app has not complied with the previous undertakings of removing immoral content, and ordered to suspend the app till July 8. This ban was lifted on July 2 with the Court directing PTA to take up the matter with TikTok.
The ban on the video sharing platform was challenged by multiple petitioners in Islamabad High Court (IHC), who requested the Court to order unbanning of the app in the country. Ashfaq Jutt, an athlete and a content creator on TikTok, is one of the petitioners who approached IHC to direct PTA to unban the app, He wrote a letter to PTA soon after the app’s first ban last year, requesting the Authority to reconsider the ban before he takes legal measures. In his letter, he wrote that he is “profoundly committed to promoting the sports industry of Pakistan,” and that he has been the user of TikTok since one year under the username Ashfaqjutt52222, and would post instructive videos on martial arts, and the benefits of physical sports for young people. He added 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.”
While talking to the Digital Rights Monitor in October 2020, Jutt said that the reason he took his prayer to the court is because he believes that freedom of expression on the internet is his fundamental right.
In a hearing on August 6, 2021, the IHC expressed outrage on the banning of the app, and remarked that in the 21st century, social media applications are a source of livelihood for the people. Does the PTA want to cut Pakistan off from the rest of the world? All types of videos are also available on YouTube. Will PTA also block YouTube? Will Google also have to be shut down?
In the next hearing on August 23, the IHC asked whether the PTA wants the country to go back 100 years. Justice Athar Minallah remarked, “What message does PTA want to send to the world? If you want to ban things, ban everything.” The Court directed the PTA to put the matter before the Federal Cabinet.
The Chinese company has assured PTA on multiple instances that it will comply with local laws and guidelines, and has removed over 9.8 million pieces of content from Pakistan between April and June 2021 for violating its community guidelines.
The lifting of the fourth ban also comes after, according to the PTA, “senior management of the platform assured PTA of its commitment to take necessary measures to control unlawful content in accordance with local laws and societal norms.”
As a result of continuous engagement, senior management of the platform assured PTA of its commitment to take necessary measures to control unlawful content in accordance with local laws and societal norms.
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) November 19, 2021
The statement on Twitter continued, “The company also assured that the users who are continuously involved in uploading unlawful content will be blocked from using the platform. Keeping in view the assurances, the Authority has decided to lift the ban on #TikTok forthwith.”
The Authority said that it will continue to monitor the platform to ensure that “unlawful content contrary to Pakistan’s law and societal values is not disseminated.”