IHC moved against new rules for regulating social media
ISLAMABAD: A constitutional writ petition has been filed before the Islamabad High (IHC) challenging the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah is scheduled to hear the petition on Monday (tomorrow).
The petition has been moved by Advocate Usama Khawar on behalf of Asad Baig, an Islamabad-based journalist and the founder and the executive director of Media Matters for Democracy.
Expressing concern over the rules, the petitioner has requested the court to declare them ultra vires the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996, and fundamental rights of the citizens secured in the Constitution, namely, the right to access to information and freedom of expression, the doctrine of delegated legislation, and Pakistan’s international commitments and obligations.
Making the federal government, Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as respondents, Khawar requested the court to suspend the implementation of the rules.
According to Advocate Usama, civil society rights watchdogs, journalists, activists, and global internet giants have opposed the new rules for regulating social media. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed its concerns that the authorities wanted to use the regulations to control the “freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting “religious, cultural, ethnic, and national security sensitivities”.
Superior bars of the country, including the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association, has also voiced concerns about the rules. Similarly, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an association of leading internet and tech companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Grab, LinkedIn, and Rakuten, has warned the Prime Minister that the rules would severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy and make it extremely difficult for its members to make their services available to the country’s users and businesses.
According to the petitioner, “The office of National Coordinator has been given broad and sweeping powers affecting the fundamental rights of citizens. National Coordinator’s powers are dictatorial and no place in a democratic society.”