ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday sought comments from the Ministry of Information Technology and other respondents till March 7, in another case pertaining to social media rules.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah took up the case filed by a citizen, Chaudhry Shafiq against the proposed Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020.
The petitioner said that the government wanted to seize freedom of expression of citizens through controlling the social media sites in the country.
He said that a national coordinator was being appointed for implementation on these rules. He claimed that the rules were in contradiction to Article 19 of the Constitution.
The court served notices to respondents and sought a written reply from them. It may be mentioned here that an identical petition was already pending with the same court regarding the matter.
The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, approved by the federal cabinet, requires all social media companies, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, to register within three months and establish their offices in Islamabad.
They will also have to create a data server in Pakistan within a year and block any account or prevent or remove any content that “violates or affects the religious, cultural, ethnic, or national security sensitivities of Pakistan” and is “involved in spreading of fake news or defamation”.
The rules garnered criticism from all quarters. The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology sought clarification from the Ministry of Information Technology for forwarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 to the cabinet without taking the panel into confidence.
US top diplomat for South Asia Alice Wells expressed concerns, saying the “new restrictions could be a setback to freedom of expression and development of digital economy”.
“Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/[with] stakeholders,” said Wells in a tweet from her official handle.