TikTok ban challenged in Islamabad High Court

Urdu version of the story here.

Islamabad, October 15, 2020 – The decision by the government to ban the video sharing application TikTok in Pakistan has been challenged in Islamabad High Court (IHC). After the petition was filed, IHC summoned Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and asked about the delay in notifying the rules under S.37 of the cybercrime law, and enquired why the delay should not be filed as contempt of court when the court had earlier given clear instructions to notify the said rules. The court has appointed the president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), vice-president of Pakistan Bar Council, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas and Jawaid Jabbar as Amici in the case to assist the Court with expert opinion on whether the banning of online platforms have implications on freedom of expression and speech, and right to access to information.

Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt, who hails from Lahore, is an athlete, and has said in his writ petition to IHC that TikTok ban by the government has not only violated his freedom of expression online, but has also negatively impacted his livelihood.

While talking to Digital Rights Monitor, Ashfaq Jutt said that the reason why he took his prayer to the court is because he believes that freedom of expression on the internet is his fundamental right.

Ashfaq Jutt is an athlete by profession and runs his own martial arts club, along with working with a few units of the Pakistan Army has the kickboxing trainer. As a kickboxer, he has taken part in two world championships, and is the only kickboxer in South Asia who has participated in global competitions.

Ashfaq Jutt is of the view that with Covid-19, his club had to be shutdown as well, so he took to the online platforms where kickboxing enthusiasts would follow him, and that also led to some income for his livelihood. But with government’s action of banning TikTok, this income has also been halted. He said that people around the world are using the internet to earn money, and Pakistan keeps on banning it.

He further said that he does not agree with the authorities’ justification of the banning TikTok on the basis of immorality. He adds that even if a few people are sharing immoral content on the app, blocking the entire app should not be a solution. “With these standards, if someone would say that the entire internet is spreading immorality, will they ban all of the entire?” He adds, “If the government thinks that TikTok is spreading obscenity, they should find a better solution for it – a kind of reporting mechanism that would only remove those people who are spreading vulgar content.”

Ashfaq Jutt is hopeful that the court will give him justice, and it will lift the ban from TikTok in Pakistan.

TikTok was banned in Pakistan on October 1, leading to a protest and opposition on social media and mainstream media, by critics and human rights organisations who equated this ban on TikTok with the violation of fundamental human rights of the citizens. According to media reports, PM Imran Khan took particular interest in the conversation of the ban of TikTok in the country.

The petition by Ashfaq Jutt is filed through Advocate Usama Khawar, and has listed Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT), PTA, and the federal government as respondents.

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