IHC directs Committee to submit report on Social Media Rules by May 10

Islamabad, April 7, 2021: Islamabad High Court (IHC), in a hearing on April 2, has directed the Committee appointed by the Prime Minister for reviewing the Social Media Rules made by PTA, to submit a report by the 10th of May in the Court.

On Friday, during the hearing of multiple petitions filed in the IHC against the Rules, the Attorney General appeared on behalf of the Government and told the Court that the Prime Minister has ordered the formation of a Committee, the purpose of which is to review the concerns and criticisms of the Social Media Rules notified earlier in November, 2020. 

The Attorney General also told the Court that he has also mentioned consultations with stakeholders regarding the Rules in the summary to which the Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the steps taken by the Attorney General in this regard deserved appreciation and hoped that the Committee would effectively review all the objections on the Rules. The Attorney General also assured the Court that his office would provide support to the Committee in the exercise of their duties. 

During the proceedings, the counsels of multiple petitioners raised concerns that the Court had already given the Government one month to produce a report back in January at the end of which a Committee was ordered to be formed but no report was presented. They argued that another extension of one month would prove useless once again as the Committee is one-sided and does not include stakeholders. 

The Court responded by saying that the stakeholders could make written submissions to the Committee according to which new Rules will be drafted. It remarked that if the petitioners have any objections to the report due to be submitted by the Committee on 10th May, then they can do so in the Court once the report is presented. 

The Court also pointed out the absence of opposition in the Committee, and told the Attorney General that the opposition were important stakeholders and cannot be excluded. The Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan responded that members of the opposition were not included due to time constraints. He went on to assure the Court that all stakeholders will be consulted before the Committee reaches a decision.

There are five separate writ petitions pending before the IHC against Social Media Rules. All of them argue that the Rules violate a number of fundamental rights including freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. The Court also raised the question of whether PTA’s content blocking powers under the Rules were a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. The case was adjourned to 10th May.

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