February 12, 2021 – After agreeing to review the Social Media Rules on behalf of the Federal Government in the wake of the criticism that the Rules received, the Attorney General of Pakistan has invited few selected stakeholders to a consultation meeting scheduled for February 19.
The letter dated February 10, copy of which is available with DRM, states, “…the Attorney General has invited all the stakeholders including the petitioners in the subject writ petition to attend a meeting at the office of the Attorney General of Pakistan on 3:30 pm on 19-2-2021.”
Through the letter, the Attorney General has invited 19 stakeholders from various organisations, representatives from departments and individuals for the consultation. Representatives from digital rights group and technology sector were not invited.
In the letter, Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the Secretary of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and the Secretary of Cabinet Division have also been asked to attend the consultation on the 19th of this month. In addition, the President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), President of the Press Association of Supreme Court Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui, and President of Press Association of Islamabad High Court Saqib Bashir are also summoned for the stakeholder meeting. Jeff Paine, the Managing Director of the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) which is a 12-member coalition of global tech companies including Facebook, Amazon, Google and others, is also invited.
Petitioners who challenged the Social Media Rules in Islamabad High Court, including, Awami Workers Party, journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi and other petitioners will also be in attendance.
While the invitation has already been sent out to select stakeholders, the office of the Attorney General confirms to the Digital Rights Monitor that all interested stakeholders can attend the meeting on February 19.
During a hearing on the case “Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt vs the Federation of Pakistan” in IHC on January 25, Attorney General of Pakistan Mr. Khalid Jawed Khan appeared before Chief Justice Athar Minallah and said in his statement that Social Media Rules in their current forms are not final, and the government is ready to revisit the Rules after consultation with all stakeholders. The Court has directed the AG, government and PTA to formulate a report after the multi-stakeholder consultation that has to be presented in the next hearing on February 26.
Under the Social Media Rules, 2020, the PTA had given itself wide powers to obtain or take down online content that the petitioners who challenged the the Rules termed against the rights of citizens protected under the Constitution of Pakistan.
The Court also expressed concerns over the process that PTA had followed to draft the Rules and questioned whether PTA has the authority to formulate Rules that infringe on people’s constitutionally protected rights. The IHC also raised questioned on the lack of multi-stakeholder consultation during the drafting of the Rules.