08/01/2021

PFUJ challenges social media rules, asks IHC to declare them ‘null and void’

Islamabad, 17 December 2020: Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court to declare the Removal of Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020 ‘null and void’.

The petition holds that the Rules are ‘inconsistent with and in derogation of the Fundamental Rights’ enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and are ‘ultra vires, as the scope of these Rules goes beyond the legal mandate given to the Respondents’ under the parent acts.

Illegal, Unlawful and Unconstitutional

The petition states that the PTA and the Government ‘have embarked on an illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional exercise of interpretation of constitutional provisions’. It refers to Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) and various rules to highlight legal and human rights concerns.

The petition also refers to the wide spread criticism received from journalistic, legal and digital rights communities and states that the rules are “Rules are being seen as a tool for arbitrary and excessive censorship in online spaces and an attempt to stifle criticism and dissent on online platforms”.

The petition also challenges the validity of “over broad and arbitrary” definitions and notes that these definitions will eventually create “legal liabilities not only for companies but also individuals who may work for such companies”.

Adverse Impact on Digital Economy

The petition also quotes Asia Internet Coalition (AIC)’s statements as reference to the ‘potentially adverse impact’ that the rules may have on Pakistan’s digital economy’. The petitioner holds that “inevitably have an adverse effect on the growth of digital economy in Pakistan, as it will lead to imposition of illegal, unreasonable, exorbitant and cumbersome obligations on online platforms, social media companies and internet users”.

The first hearing of the petition is scheduled for Friday, 18 December 2020.

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