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IHC asks PTA to justify TikTok ban

Why block the app for a handful of videos, it said

SAMAA | - Posted: Oct 25, 2021 | Last Updated: 1 month ago
Posted: Oct 25, 2021 | Last Updated: 1 month ago

Artwork by SAMAA Digital

The Islamabad High Court has instructed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to justify the reason for banning TikTok, a video-sharing application.

At a hearing Monday, Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the authority has submitted a report but it doesn’t answer the questions put forward by the court. TikTok was banned by the country for the fourth time on July 21.

Petitions filed by the PTA in the Sindh High Court and the Peshawar High Court state that only 1% of the content on the app is objectionable. Why are blocking the app for a handful of videos, the court inquired.

Justice Minallah asked the attorney-general if experts were consulted before blocking the application. He pointed out that TikTok is mostly used by people from the lower-income segments who are making money out of it.

Irked at PTA’s inability to justice the ban, Justice Minallah authority to provide more reasons at the next hearing and adjourned the case till November 22.

At the previous hearing on August 7, the court issued a six-page order against PTA’s restriction on TikTok and asked the IT secretary to respond on Pakistan’s policy for social media apps.

TikTok bans

On July 21, the PTA blocked access to TikTok under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. This was the fourth time the app has been banned in the country.

“The action was taken due to the continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down,” the PTA said in a press statement.

First ban: October 9, 2020

The video-sharing app was first blocked in Pakistan on October 9, 2020, over “obscene and immoral” content. The PTA said it had issued a final notice to the app and gave considerable time to respond and develop and an effective mechanism for ‘proactive moderation of unlawful online content.’ TikTok has failed to fully comply with the PTA’s instructions, a press release sent by the authority reads.

Related: TikTok ban divides Pakistanis

The ban was, however, reversed after 10 days. The PTA spokesperson said the TikTok management has assured the authority that it will block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality and moderate content in accordance with local laws. The authority has not announced whether the app will be unblocked immediately.

The authority had said at the time of the ban that the decision was made after it received complaints ‘against immoral/indecent content’ on the app. “In view of the presence of vulgar, indecent/immoral content on the platform and its negative effects on the society, the PTA has been continuously asserting TikTok to prevent its platform from disseminating the unlawful content,” it said, adding that the app didn’t take concrete steps for blocking and removal of unlawful content.

Second ban: March 11, 2021

The PTA blocked TikTok for the second time on the high court’s orders on March 11.

“In respectful compliance to the orders of the Peshawar High Court, PTA has issued directions to service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok App,” the PTA said in a Twitter post.

The order to block the app was issued by the PHC over the presence of “immoral content” on the platform. In his short order, PHC Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan told the authorities that the ban should not be revoked till objectionable content is removed.

A man filed a petition in the high court on September 8, 2020. He said that he approached the court after the PTA and other institutions failed to take notice of the “immoral and objectionable” content on the app.

The ban was reversed after three weeks.

Third ban: June 28, 2021

The app was blocked for the third time on orders of the Sindh High Court on June 28 over “immoral” and “objectionable” content. The ban was reversed after four days after PTA assured the content will be monitored.

TikTok has removed over six million videos in Pakistan due to nude and sexual content, from January till March this year, it announced.

The exact number of videos removed from January till March was 6,495,992. Pakistan is second on the list behind the US where 8,540,088 videos were removed.

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