April 14, 2021

Peshawar High Court Lifts Second Ban on TikTok

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) has lifted the ban on video-sharing platform TikTok, which was imposed for the second time on March 11 over “immoral content.” The court told the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to take steps to ensure that such content is not uploaded to the platform again.

The PHC also directed PTA Director General (DG) Tariq Gandapur to submit a detailed report on May 25, the day of the next hearing.

At the start of the hearing, PHC Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan asked the DG to explain why the regulator had unbanned the app. The DG responded that the authority had brought up the issue with the company again, and that the platform had appointed a focal person for content policy who will monitor all objectionable and illegal content on the platform.

“You should have a system in place to differentiate between good and bad content,” the judge said.

He further remarked that people will avoid uploading such content on TikTok if PTA takes strict action against the ones that do. The DG said the telecom regulator had spoken to the company’s management about permanently blocking people who consistently upload such content.

“This shouldn’t be a one-time thing. You should take further steps to stop objectionable content on TikTok,” the judge said.

There are some websites where it is not possible to block a specific kind of content, according to PTA lawyer Jehanzeb Mehsud. “The whole site has to be blocked,” he added.

TikTok’s second ban

The PHC banned the app in March after the CJ heard a plea seeking to place a ban on Tiktok. He said the videos uploaded on the platform were “not acceptable for Pakistani society” and that the audience most impacted by TikTok was the youth. The PHC CJ also said that the app was spreading obscenity and should be shut down immediately.

Some media reports alleged that the PTA DG had said the government had approached TikTok officials over concerns for the immoral content but did not receive a “positive” response from them. However, in a statement by PTA, the regulator said that no such remark was made by its representative in the court. In fact, the report submitted to the court, which was part of the record, stated that TikTok was cooperating with PTA in regulating objectionable content.

This was the second time Tik Tok had been banned in the country. PTA blocked the app on October 9, 2020 on the grounds that it promoted “unethical content.” This led to backlash by activists, users and human rights organizations who said the ban was a violation of citizens’ fundamental human rights. However, the ban was lifted after just 10 days by PTA, which said the app had assured the agency that videos will be moderated in accordance with local laws.

Written by

Romessa Nadeem is a Project Coordinator at Media Matters for Democracy, which runs the Digital Rights Monitor.

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