“Government willing to review controversial social media rules,” the Attorney General of Pakistan tells IHC

Urdu version here | Translation by Salwa Rana

Islamabad, 25th January, 2020: The Attorney General of Pakistan, Khalid Javed Khan, appeared before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday, and said that the Government has agreed to review the rules in light of all the criticism received.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Athar Minallah, was hearing multiple petitions filed by the members of civil society, journalists, and journalist-bodies including the federal journalist-body, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the social media rules. 

The Attorney General appeared to address the Court’s concerns raised in earlier hearings, and agreed that blocking of any social media platform is not the solution to any problem. He informed the Court that the Government was ready to consult all the stakeholders in order to review the social media rules. 

The Chief Justice held that the Government’s stance was reasonable in this situation and directed the Attorney General to appear before the Court on the 26th of February after the Government has consulted all relevant parties. The Chief Justice also remarked that the Court had sensed that the relevant parties were not consulted when the first versions of social media rules were released and that Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution were crystal clear on the right to freedom of expression as a fundamental right. 

During the proceedings, Advocate Usama Khawar, counsel for journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi who filed a petition challenging the Rules earlier in December, pointed out to the Court that even though stakeholders were consulted during the drafting of the current version of the rules, the suggestions and recommendations shared with PTA were ignored. 

To this, the Attorney General reassured that the report presented to the Court on the 26th of February will take into account the recommendation made by all parties. The Court also reiterated that Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) were important stakeholders and that any decision with regard to the social media rules must be made with due consideration of their position. 

Advocate Kashif Malik, on behalf of the petitioners, also requested the Court to issue an order with respect to PTA’s exercise of power under said rules to which the Chief Justice responded by saying that the Court did not wish to issue a “general order” in that regard. However, if PTA were to take action against any person under the power granted to them in the rules, then the Court will entertain the plea of the aggrieved party. 

The Islamabad High Court adjourned the case until the 26th of February when the Federal Government is expected to present a report after consultation with the relevant parties and stakeholders. The report will also determine whether PTA has the authority to remove online content that is deemed inappropriate or illegal as per the restrictions laid down in the constitution to freedom of expression. 

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