April 7, 2021 – The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT) has invited a few stakeholders to attend a consultation meeting on Social Media Rules with the Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari scheduled on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at the Ministry of Human Rights in Islamabad.
The letter, copy of which is with the Digital Rights Monitor, is sent to Media Matters for Democracy and three other stakeholders including Pakistan Press Association of Supreme Court, Islamabad High Court Press Association and Journalist Association of Islamabad, in compliance with the orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) dated January 15 during a hearing of a petition challenging the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020.
The notice dated April 6 is sent one day before the meeting with the call to submit a written response on the Rules today. The notice states, “It is pertinent to mention that your written objection specifically mentioning the vires of the Articles of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, the provisions related to Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and any other law be provided well before time i.e. at least one working day before the meeting regarding above said Rules in the office Chairperson.”
The Committee chaired by the Minister of Human Rights was formed on orders of the Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 30 to hold broad-based consultations on the Rules on the suggestions of the Attorney General who has been representing the government in Court under the matter. The Attorney General held a consultative meeting on February 19 on the directives of the IHC, report of which was to be presented in Court in the next hearing on February 26. However, the Attorney General told the Court that further consultation with stakeholders is needed, and hence an extension of one month was provided to the committee to hold these meetings and submit the report on April 2.
However, in the hearing on April 2, the IHC granted another extension to the Committee, the decision which was met with concerns from the counsels of multiple petitioners challenging the Rules in IHC. The next hearing is scheduled for May 10 where the Court has asked the Committee to submit a detailed report on the Rules after consultation with stakeholders.
Currently, at least five petitions are filed in IHC challenging the Social Media Rules, which are clubbed with other cases related to contempt of court against PTA regarding website blocking and the temporary suspension of the TikTok app.
The Social Media Rules followed a controversial process and were met with criticism from the technology sector and civil society alike demanding to denotify the Rules and to not implement them unless a democratic consultation process is adopted to tabulate them again. The Asia Internet Coalition – a consortium of global tech giants, has also expressed their disapproval repeatedly towards the Rules and have said that it will be difficult for them to provide their services in Pakistan if the Rules are implemented.