IHC issues notices to info ministry, PTA on plea challenging ‘ban’ on social media site X

IHC issues notices to info ministry, PTA on plea challenging ‘ban’ on social media site X

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued notices to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the information ministry on a plea challenging the “ban” on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

Access to X has been disrupted in many areas of Pakistan since February 17, when former Rawal­pindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha accused the chief election commissioner and chief justice of Pakistan of being involved in rigging the February 8 general elections.

In a statement on Feb 29, monitoring website Downdetector said “metrics shows that X/Twitter remains restricted in Pakistan despite brief moments of availability”.

Rights bodies and journalists’ organisations have condemned the muzzling of social media, while internet service providers have also lamented losses due to disruptions. The United States had also called on Pakistan last month to lift restrictions on social media platforms.

The Sindh High Court (SHC) last month expressed displeasure on the disruption and instructed the PTA to restore X services “without any interruption or disruption”. However, services remain disrupted sporadically.

Today, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq took up a plea challenging the restriction on X across the country. Lawyers Sardar Masroof and Amna Ali appeared before the court on behalf of the petitioner.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Farooq asked if X was down, to which Masroof replied: “The government has imposed a ban on X since February 17.”

The IHC chief justice then noted that the SHC had already issued an order on the matter. However, the counsel informed the court here that a contempt case was being heard over the failure to implement the SHC’s directives.

Subsequently, the IHC issued notices to the respondents, including the information ministry and the PTA, and adjourned the hearing till next week.

The plea
The petition was filed on Monday by Ehtisham Abbasi, a resident of Islamabad, and named the information ministry and the PTA as the respondents in the case.

It urged the high court to issue directives to the respondents to “immediately lift the ban on X (Twitter) access in the interest of justice”.

It argued that the “act of the respondents against journalists particularly in the recent past is highly violative” of Article 19 of the Constitution (freedom of speech).

Referring to the “very important fundamental right” as provided under Article 14 of the Constitution (inviolability of dignity of man, etc), the plea said that the “liberty of a person” was a “pivotal right and falls squarely within the ambit of right to life and dignity of a person”.

The petition asserted that the “impugned inaction of the respondents is deliberate, arbitrary, mala fide, without lawful authority” and “derogatory” to the provisions of the Constitution and the fundamental rights guaranteed therein.

It added that the “impugned inaction is patently void, ab initio, a contrived an untenable, misplaced, misdirected, unfounded, erroneous, contrary to the law and facts on the record”, and was liable to be set aside by the IHC.

The petitioner further argued that the disruption of X “suffers from serious legal infirmities as the same is not sustainable in view of the settled law” and that “a number of other constitutional and statutory rights have been infringed and circumvented”.