Pakistan’s Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) during a hearing on Monday that the government is ready to review new social media regulations implemented last year and will consult with all stakeholders in this regard.
A petition by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and others against the social media rules imposed by the government in November was heard by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah.
The new rules, introduced through the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020 under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, were immediately rejected by many stakeholders like the web Service Providers of Pakistan (ISPAK) and were widely criticised as being “draconian”.
During the hearing today, the AGP informed the court that the govt supported a review of the social media regulation rules and “a review are going to be held after consultation with [relevant] stakeholders and petitioners.”
Justice Minallah said relevant stakeholders were seemingly not consulted during the formulation of the social media rules. “Pakistan Bar Council and PFUJ are important stakeholders during this matter.”
To this, AGP Khan assured the court that the petitioners would be consulted and therefore the government wasn’t looking to place a “complete restriction” nor was “closing any [social media] platform the solution”.
He asked the court to offer a while during which the govt could review the principles along side the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) and therefore the concerned stakeholders.
Justice Minallah welcomed the response of the attorney general, which he said was “very positive” adding that “consultation is necessary and [a] very appropriate [course of action].” He advised the attorney general to present his suggestions to the stakeholders if they were prepared to review the rules of social media.
Justice Minallah had observed the rules in a previous hearing in an unrelated case that they “would discourage criticism and adversely affect accountability in the country” “Criticism is very important for democracy. Let the people have information and let them judge the government”For democracy, criticism is very important. Let the people have data and let the government judge them.
In response to criticism of non-consultation, the PTA, meanwhile, maintained that ‘a thorough consultation process was carried out by the Consultation Committee formed under the direction of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.’