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Friday April 19, 2024

PTA told to restore X if there are no reasonable grounds to ban its access

By Jamal Khurshid
February 24, 2024

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and others to restore social media site X, formerly Twitter, in case there was no lawful justification or reasonable grounds to deny the public access to X.

A view of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) building in Islamabad. — AFP/File
A view of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

Issuing an interim order on a petition against the blockade of internet access to the social media platform, a division bench of the high court headed by SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi also issued pre-admission notices to the PTA, ministry of information and others for their comments.

The petitioners, Zarrar Khuro, Mona Khan, Zaibunnisa Burki, Amber Rahim Shamsi and Safia Mehmood, had submitted in the petition that X had been blocked by the PTA for last five days and it had been blocked time to time by the authorities without any good reason.

They submitted that the PTA’s arbitrary and unlawful blanket ban on access to X infringed on the petitioners’ rights to freely express and receive information. They submitted that the restrictions on accessing X were a flagrant violation of the Article 19 of the Constitution and they had a direct detrimental impact on political and economic freedoms.

The SHC was informed that X was used by millions of Pakistanis — including the petitioners — and was the most effective and useful medium for not only

accessing information and self-expression, but also for conducting business and earning income.

They submitted that the PTA’s blanket ban on X in the absence of any exceptions under the Article 19 of the Constitution, or Section 37 of the PECA 2016, or Rule 3 of the 2021 Rules being triggered, violated the PTA’s governing mandate, and grossly violated the economic and constitutional rights and freedoms of the petitioners and countless other Pakistanis.

The petitioners’ counsel, Abdul Moiz Jaffery, submitted that the impugned action was contrary to the law and tantamount to denying the access of the citizens of Pakistan to the information regarding important national events, including the recent general elections in the country.

The counsel submitted that the PTA had the authority to slow down the site or its blockade. He said the PTA should be directed to apprise the court as to under what law and regulations, the social media platform had been banned.

The SHC was requested to declare the impugned action of restricting or blocking access to X as unlawful and in violation of the Article 19-A of the Constitution and direct the PTA to restore the public access to X and other social media platforms blocked in an unlawful manner.

The bench, after the preliminary hearing of the petition, issued pre-admission notices to the PTA and others and in the meantime, directed the PTA to restore public access to X if there was no lawful justification or reasonable grounds to deny the internet access to X/Twitter.

It is pertinent to mention that the SHC had earlier directed the PTA to ensure that there shall be no further shutting down, disruption or slowing down of the internet service unless there were valid or cogent reasons which shall be intimated to the court.

The SHC had made it clear that if no valid reasons were provided for continued suspension, disruption or slowing down of the Internet service, adverse inference may be drawn against the authorities concerned.