The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has threatened the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) with contempt of court after the body failed to submit a reply to a petition against the blocking of the official website of the Awami Workers Party (AWP).
The court asked the PTA to submit its comments within a fortnight or have its chairman face contempt proceedings. The warning came after the PTA had failed to submit comments a month after a petition had been filed against it by the AWP, even though the IHC had given it only a fortnight back then as well.
Last month, the AWP filed a writ petition in the IHC against the blocking of their official website by the 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.
“On the last date of hearing,which was on February 18, the court had admitted our petition for hearing and directed PTA to file comments within a fortnight” the AWP’s lawyer, Umer Gillani, told Pakistan Today.
Since PTA had not filed comments even after passage of one month, the AWP filed an application seeking appropriate directions from the Court. The application was heard by the court and allowed.
“In today’s order, the court has repeated its observation that the questions raised in the petition concern fundamental rights of all internet users in the country,” Umer Gillani went on to say.
“Today’s proceedings give us re-assurance the court is giving questions of digital rights law the importance they deserve.”
According to details, 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.
The party says it has filed the writ petition as a last resort since the website continues to be inaccessible. In the 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.