Sunday April 14, 2024

SHC orders govt to restore social media platform X

Court restrains PTA from blocking internet, websites, X, other social media platforms

By Amin Anwar
February 22, 2024
— AFP/File
— AFP/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday ordered the government to restore social media platform X in the country which has been facing disruptions since last week.

The development comes as SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi heard a plea filed by multiple petitioners including Zarrar Khuhro, Amber Shamsi, Zebunnisa Burki and others against intermittent disruptions faced by users in accessing the renowned social media platform which has witnessed various "unannounced" sporadic suspensions in recent weeks.

During today's hearing, the chief justice questioned on whose directions was the social media site suspended.

"How long [social media platform] X has been down?" the judge asked.

To this, the petitioner's lawyer apprised the court that only the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has the authority to suspend the access to the social media platform.

"PTA should be asked [to disclose] who issued the directives to suspend [social media site] X," the counsel said.

The petition, which includes the state, Ministry of IT and the PTA as parties to the case, highlighted that the disruptions were neither preceded by any kind of notice or indication by the PTA — which possesses the exclusive authority and ability to implement such restrictions of access at such a large-scale — nor the disruption of access was limited to any specific location or locations as the regulatory body imposed a blanket ban on access to X on a national scale, affecting users in all major cities.

"The Impugned Actions of the PTA also consist of the fact that the regulator acted in blatant violation of the provisions of the PTA Act, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 ("PECA 2016"), and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021 (the “Removal Rules”). These laws and rules mandate that the PTA must act within a narrowly defined set of exceptions when determining whether it is necessary to disrupt the flow or dissemination of any online content or information," the petition read.

Lamenting the violation of rights under Articles 19, 19-A and 18 of the Constitution, the plea prayed the court to direct the authorities to restore public access to X and any other platforms that have been subjected to similar restrictions.

PTA violated its own laws: lawyer

A similar petition was being heard by the high court related to the suspension of the internet and other social media platforms on the polling day earlier this month, our plea specifically pertains to the blockage of X for the last more than five days, lawyer Moiz Jafferi said, adding that journalists and academics had approached the court in this regard.

“This [access] is not for entertainment. It is related to their research and professional work.”

He further shared that the federal government had distanced from this action but the regulator [Pakistan Telecom Authority] is not even ready to admit this fact which you can see for the the last five days.

“This is a specific failure of the PTA of its own laws and violation of various orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC). Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court has also said that the right to Article 19A can not be fettered like this.”

The lawyer lamented that the PTA should at least admit that it has done this.

"They have yet to admit the fact that access to X has been blocked."

Jafferi said that the court has ordered that it is illegal to block access to X for any Pakistani and it should be reactivated forthwith.