DRM Exclusive: TikTok user sends letter to PTA urging it to unblock app before legal action is taken

October 12, 2020 – In response to the ban on TikTok imposed by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in the country, Ashfaq Jutt, a content creator on the video sharing application, has written a letter to PTA demanding to unblock the app within two days of posting the letter before the applicant files a writ petition to challenge the decision in court.

The letter can be accessed here.

In the letter addressed to PTA, Ashfaq writes that he has 26 years of experience in kickboxing, and is the Senior Vice-President of Pakistan Kickboxing Federation. He adds that he runs his private martial arts training club and is also a trainer of the Pakistan army, “profoundly committed to promoting the sports industry of Pakistan”. Ashfaq writes that he has been the user of TikTok for the past one year with the username Ashfaqjutt52222, and would post instructive videos on martial arts, and the benefits of physical sports for young people.

The letter further states 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.”

Ashfaq highlights in his letter that he has hundreds of followers on his TikTok account, and it has also helped him advertise his training school to people on the app, leading him to financial opportunities and earning livelihood. He says that the ban is unmerited because of the vague allegations from the regulator.

The letter points out that PTA should have taken the app users’ point of view through a public hearing before taking the drastic measure of banning a platform altogether that is used by thousands of people. It makes a reference to the judgment by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the case of PUBG ban, where IHC ruled that the PTA is supposed to give notices to people likely to be affected by the decision and an opportunity to share their point of view, through public hearing. 

Ashfaq urges that keeping in view of his constitutional rights to freedom of expression, speech, right to information, right to live and other secured rights, PTA must unblock TikTok within two days. In an instance where the ban is not lifted within the suggested time period, the letter mentions that the “undersigned intend to take legal action against this illegal action.”

TikTok was banned by the PTA on October 9 on account of hosting supposedly unlawful, “immoral/indecent” content on its platform. The press release by PTA mentions that the regulator gave TikTok a final notice and considerable time to respond and comply with its instructions of taking down said content, failure of which led to PTA taking the decision of blocking the app in the country.

It’s important to highlight that TikTok’s second transparency report mentioned that it removed around 14 million videos, out of which over 3 million videos were from Pakistan between July and December 2019. The report further mentions that 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.

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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