The Awami Workers Party (AWP) on Saturday filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the blocking of their official website by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
Apart from asking for unblocking of its website, AWP has further urged the court to guard the fundamental rights of citizens in online spaces and to compel PTA to exercise its powers of blocking online content strictly in accordance with the law.
According to details, the website of the AWP had been blocked on July 3, 2018. The party claims that it was done to try and sabotage their election campaign.
The petition sites reports of various digital censorship experts, including Digital Rights Foundation and Observatory of Online Network Interference, that say that the blockage was the result of government censorship. Since then, the party has been approaching various forums, including the PTA, the Election Commission of Pakistan and relevant telecom operators, but no relief has been granted to it so far.
The party says it has filed the writ petition as a last resort since the website continues to be inaccessible. The petition, filed through advocates Muhammad Haider Imtiaz and Umer Ijaz Gilani, has been fixed for hearing before the the chief justice of the IHC for Monday.
In its petition, the AWP has placed reliance upon IHC’s own 2018 judgement against shutdowns of telecom networks which were being illegally ordered by the federal government. In that judgement, reported as PLD 2018 Islamabad 243, (then) Justice Athar Minallah had taken notice of telecom network shutdowns which were being carried out by PTA.
Furthermore, it is mandatory for PTA to give reasoned orders in relation to blocking of online content, against which statutory remedies have also been provided by law.
According to the figures disclosed by PTA in its 2018 Annual Report and cited in the petition, there are, at present, over 800,000 websites which have been blocked by PTA. In almost no case have the requirements of the above-mentioned legal provisions been complied with.