IHC serves notices to PTA, info ministry over restriction on X (Twitter)

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday served notices to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting over the suspension of social media platform X, erstwhile Twitter in the country.

IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq heard the plea challenging the restriction on X across the country. Lawyers – Sardar Masroof and Amna Ali – appeared before the court on behalf of the petitioner.

As the proceedings began, Justice Farooq asked if X was down, to which Masroof replied: “The government has imposed a ban on X since February 17.”

Access to X has been restricted in many areas of Pakistan since February 17, when former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan of being involved in rigging the February 8 general elections.

The IHC chief justice then noted that the SHC had already issued an order. However, the counsel informed the court that a contempt case was being heard over the failure to implement the SHC’s directives.

Subsequently, the IHC issued notices to the respondents, including the information ministry and the PTA, and adjourned the hearing till next week.

Later, the IHC adjourned the hearing of the case for a week after issuing notices to the PTA and the information and broadcasting ministry.

It is to be noted that the Sindh High Court (SHC), last month, directed the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to restore social media platform X services across Pakistan. Social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, continues to remain inaccessible to users in Pakistan after internet watchdog groups started to report outages on Saturday.

NetBlocks, an organisation that monitors accessibility issues on the internet, on February 17 confirmed that a “national-scale disruption” has hit X in Pakistan in the aftermath of widespread protests in the country triggered by the alleged vote rigging in general elections.

In a statement on Feb 29, monitoring website Downdetector said “metrics shows that X/Twitter remains restricted in Pakistan despite brief moments of availability”.

Rights bodies and journalists’ organisations have condemned the muzzling of social media, while internet service providers have also lamented losses due to disruptions. The United States had also called on Pakistan last month to lift restrictions on social media platforms.

The Sindh High Court (SHC) last month expressed displeasure on the disruption and instructed the PTA to restore X services “without any interruption or disruption”. However, services remain disrupted sporadically.

The plea

The petition was filed on Monday by Ehtisham Abbasi, a resident of Islamabad, and named the information ministry and the PTA as the respondents in the case.

It urged the high court to issue directives to the respondents to “immediately lift the ban on X (Twitter) access in the interest of justice”.

It argued that the “act of the respondents against journalists particularly in the recent past is highly violative” of Article 19 of the Constitution (freedom of speech).

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