Bolo Bhi Files Petition Challenging Legality of IMCEW
December 14, 2014: Bolo Bhi has filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court challenging the legality of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW), with the aim of having it declared unconstitutional.
Constituted through an executive order in 2006, the IMCEW, since then, has been issuing orders for content takedown. Housed under the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT), the Secretary IT acts as its convener. The workings of the committee have been non-transparent and dubious to say the least in its eight years of existence. There is no public record of its members, meetings or directives.
The censorship regime in Pakistan, in place right now is as follows: the IMCEW issues directives to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), which are enforced by the PTA through local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This year it has been noted that PTA has been routing IMCEW directives to companies such as Twitter and Facebook, to restrict content in Pakistan, and some of these requests have been complied with too. The compliance indicates that the IMCEW is being viewed as the ‘competent’ authority to deal with issues of content removal and restriction in Pakistan, that its directive are viewed as enforceable and supported by local law.
We find, through a legal assessment, that the IMCEW has no legal standing. As an executive body constituted through an executive order, it has arbitrarily conferred upon itself powers. Furthermore, through an assessment of its constituting documents, which we obtained through a right to information request filed earlier this year, the requests PTA was to act upon were limited to blasphemous and pornographic content. However the committee’s directives have extended well beyond that.
Two years of conversation and research, and observing prevailing practice has revealed the committee is prone to political hijacking and pressure, and has been used to personal and political ends to stem ‘undesirable’ and dissenting opinion. Facebook’s most recent transparency report is testament to that. The report reveals 1773 pieces of content were restricted by Facebook in compliance with Pakistan government requests, not only on grounds of blasphemy but also ‘criticism of the state.’
There is no law in Pakistan that declares criticism of the government illegal in Pakistan. And interpreting what constitutes criticism of the state does not fall within the ambit of the IMCEW, PTA or any body in Pakistan for that matter.
The IMCEW has become a prime example of arbitrary and ad-hoc executive action and abuse of power. In order to curb the continued misuse of power, we have filed a petition challenging its legality with the hope of having it struck down and declared unconstitutional.
In the coming days, we will be uploading a copy of our petition and making more details available.