Below is a record of petitions filed against the Federation of Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and the Federal Investigation Agency for exercise of power, abuse of authority, violation of fundamental rights – espeically freedom of expression – and due process of law, in connection with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. PDF here.
|23||14 October 2020||Advocate Usama Khawar on behalf of Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt filed a writ petition W.P. 3028/2020 before the Islamabad High Court challenging the PTA’s ban on TikTok application vide its order dated 09 October 2020.
The PTA had said it blocked TikTok, in view of a number of complaints from different segments of the society against immoral/indecent content on TikTok. It further said that it had “issued a final notice to the application and gave considerable time to respond and comply with the Authority instructions for development of an effective mechanism for proactive moderation of unlawful online content”. It said that the decision of banning the application was made due to their failure to “fully comply with the instructions” of the PTA.
The petitioner argued that he has been associated with Mixed Martial Arts for the past 26 years and runs a private training club. He said that he has been using TikTok to promote his skills and club to earn a living. The petitioner has requested the court to suspend the ban declaring it violative of the fundamental rights.
Vide its order dated 15 October 2020,dated 15 October 2020, Justice Athar Minallah directed PTA to nominate a senior official to appear before the Court in person on the next date and explain as to why their order banning the application should not be suspended and why no action should be taken against them for violating the previous orders of the court.
|22||08 October 2020||Journalist Rana Arshad Sulehri filed an W.P. 2939/2020 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging undated summon by FIA. According to the summon, FIA is “conducting a probe regarding cybercrime” against the journalist under Enquiry No. 253/2020. Regarding the nature of offence the summons state, “you are well aware of the facts/circumstances of the said matter”. The Petitioner also submitted that his house was raided by the FIA after he was sent the said undated summon.
Vide order dated 08.10.2020, the Court issued notices to the parties directed the investigation officer to appear in person and explain “under what authority of law the undated notice was issued”, why the Petitioner’s house was raided and why the alleged commission or omission on part of the Petitioner leading to issuance of summons was not disclosed in the summon. The petitioner will be heard on 12.10.2020. The Court directed the Respondents to not take any adverse action against the Petitioner.
On the hearing of 12.10.2020, the investigation officer submitted a copy of complaint with the High Court. In response to why the house was raided he said that the house was visited to verify the address. The High Court directed the circle incharge to submit a detailed report, and held that the FIA would be at liberty to summon Arshad Sulehri, and in response Arshad Sulehri would be expected to join the proceedings. However the Court held that no adverse action shall be taken against the petitioner.
|21||29 September 2020||On 29 September 2020, journalist Asad Ali Toor’s counsel Umer Gillani tweeted that he filed quashment petition against the FIR against Asad Ali Toor in the Lahore High Court. FIR 338/2020 was lodged against him on 12 September 2020 by Police Station Jatli, Rawalpindi under sections 499, 500 and 505 of PPC and sections 11, 20 and 37 of PECA for allegedly posting propaganda against the state, its institutions and armed forces. The contents of the FIR do not mention specific posts but say that the posts of Asad Ali Toor have been attached.
Asad Ali Toor’s counsel Umer Gillani also said in the tweet that the Court admitted the petition, issued notices to the parties involved and also made a “favorable observation”.
|20||04 June 2020||A Petition was filed in Islamabad High Court (IHC) against PTA’s ban on PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) – an online multiplayer “battle royale” game. The petition argued that electronic sports are the largest growing industry in the world, and the PUBG is a way to earn money online. The Petitioner also said that he was to join the PUBG World League on July 10 after he had won the PUBG tournament in Pakistan.
IHC single-bench headed by Justice Aamer Farooq heard the Petition on 06 July 2020. Justice Aamer Farooq asked the PTA counsel to explain the reasons leading to the decision of the ban to which the counsel replied that the Punjab Police had written a letter to the PTA requesting the ban in light of suicides linked to PUBG. The counsel further said, “we have also received complaints from parents requesting us to impose a ban on the game”. The PTA's counsel in their argument also made a claim that the had been banned after anti-Islam material was witnessed on it. On linking PUBG with suicide cases, the IHC judge questioned PTA on the last hearing as to why mental health experts were not consulted regarding the claim.
The Court ordered the PTA to issue a written order regarding the ban stating the laws under which the power of ban was exercised. The PTA committed to issue an order on 08 July 2020 after hearing the petitioner.
On 24 July 2020, the IHC ordered restoration of PUBG. On 27 July 2020, PTA through a press release announced that it has issued a detailed order regarding banning of PUBG and said that the game will remain banned. It said that the detailed order was released in accordance with IHC’s orders.
On 30 July 2020, the PTA announced unbanning PUBG as a result of “positive engagement” with the company. According to the press release, the PTA was satisfied with the measures PUBG had adopted in response to the ban and concerns raised by PTA. It emphasized on continued engagement and a comprehensive control mechanism.
|19||Undated||W.P. 655/2020, Muhammad Shafiq vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.
|18||July 2020||W.P. 1788/2020, M/S Proxima Beta Pvt Ltd (PUBG) vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed against the PTA’s temporary suspension of Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds (PUBG) Mobile vide its decision taken in the meeting on 02.07.2020.
The Islamabad High Court vide judgment dated 24.07.2020 set aside the suspension of PUBG as being without lawful authority directing the PTA to pass another reasoned and speaking order basing its decision on the feedback received during public hearing conducted regarding the issue. The PTA was directed to pass the order by keeping in view the mandate of Section 37 of PECA or any other applicable law within the period of 7 days from the date of this judgment.
|17||Undated||W.P. 2210/2020, Asad Baig vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020. PTA has said that the Rules are not enforceable as they have not been published in the official gazette. Court directed the respondents to submit written comments.
|16||Undated||W.P. 588/2020, Raja Ahsan Mahmood Satti vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.
|15||28 May 2020||Advocate Shakeel Abbasi, Islamabad President of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), filed a petition before Sessions Court Islamabad requesting a direction to FIA for registration of criminal case / FIR against Cynthia D Ritchie (a blogger from the US) for her "very derogatory and slanderous remarks" that she allegedly posted through her tweet. The petition was filed under Section 22-A & B CrPC before the Court of Sessions Judge, Justice of Peace Islamabad West against FIA’s inaction against Cynthia Ritchie.
On 15 June 2020, the Additional Sessions Judge, West Islamabad, passed an order in petition titled Muhammad Shakil Abbasi versus FIA and others directing the FIA to register to conduct an inquiry and register an FIR if sufficient material found. Cynthia D. Ritchie filed a petition W.P. 1615/2020 before the Islamabad High Court challenging this order arguing that the order is unlawful and illegal requesting it be set aside
The IHC on 22 June 2020 turned down the Petition W.P. 1615/2020. A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah observed that the competent authority would obviously be considering the material and then form an opinion whether or not to register a case. Justice Athar noted in the verdict, “It is settled law that a High Court while exercising jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 does not interfere in matters relating to inquiry or investigation, as the case may be.”
|14||14 March 2020||Order passed in Crl. Org. 256/2019 Writ, The State vs Hamid Mir etc pending before Islamabad High Court requested the amici to send opinion regarding on:
1. whether the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 could be treated as a reasonable restriction in context of fundamental rights under Article 19 and Article 19-A of the Constitution.
2. the scope of rights under Article 19 and Article 19-A of the Constitution.
3. the need to regulate social media and simultaneously protect rights under Article 19 and Article 19-A of the Constitution.
4. what constitutes “hate speech” and to what extent restrictions may be imposed which would meet the threshold of “reasonable restrictions”.
|13||05 March 2020||W.P. 760/2020, Haroon ur Rasheed etc vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020. The Petition prayed that the Rules be declared arbitrary, unjust, unreasonable, illegal and null and void for being in breach of fundamental rights and international covenants.
|12||21 February 2020||Jehangir Khan Jadoon, a member of the Supreme Court Bar Association filed a Petition in the Islamabad High Court against the government’s proposed the Citizen Protection (Against Online harm) Rules, 2020, to regulate social media on behalf of a citizen named Raja Ahsan Masood.The Cabinet Secretary, Law and Justice Secretary, Information Secretary, and the PTA chairperson have been named as respondents in the case.
The petition said that “to control the flow of information in any form, whether it is social media, print media or electronic media is a favourite tool of dictatorships and the essence of tyranny”. It said the government “secretly” presented before the cabinet a special agenda item and approved the Citizen Protection (Against Online harm) Rules, 2020.
“The petitioner maintained that the rules were in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. He also argued that they violated Article 4 of the Constitution that ensured a person’s protection under law and also Article 19A under which citizens had the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance.”
The petitioner wants the court to declare illegal the law in its present form and restrain the respondents from implementing it.
|11||17 February 2020||The Lahore High Court sought a report from the federal government on newly formulated regulations, the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020, to control social media companies/platforms under Pakistan Telecommunication Reorganization Act 1996 and Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016. Advocate Azhar Siddique, representing a petitioner in W.P 2816/ 2020 titled “Munir Ahmed Vs. FoP & Others”, contended that the regulations needed to be implemented in letter and spirit. Therefore, he asked the court to order the PTA and the federal government to place on record the regulations and a mechanism for implementing them more effectively.
Digital rights activist Ms Jannat Ali filed an intervener application C.M.A 5/2020 in the Petition arguing, “the regulations prima facie appear to be illegal and ultra vires for contravening and exceeding the scope of Pakistan Telecommunication Reorganization Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 (Peca) and [in] violation of fundamental constitutional rights”. Through her counsel Usama Khawar Ghumman, the applicant pleaded that the PECA, the parent law, conferred limited powers to “remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to information through any information system. She said the parent law did not give the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the power to sub-delegate any of its powers, including the delegation of rules to a National Coordinator – a person appointed by the federal government. The applicant further contended that the federal government had very limited rule-making powers under the sections of the PECA and the PTA Act.
Through the application, the activist also sought the court’s permission to become a party to a pending petition in favour of the impugned regulations and urged the court to dismiss the same.
|10||January 2020||Sandal Khattak filed a petition before Lahore Sessions Court against summons issued to her. The Court issued notice to cyber crime wing of FIA on a petition filed by TikTok star Sandal Khattak. Khattak pleaded that the FIA initiated enquiries against her and issued her summonses without informing her of the allegations against her. "The FIA has been harassing me. I was summoned for an inquiry on October 28 and November 5, without any knowledge of what the investigation is about," Khattak said in her petition. Khattak asked the court to restrain the FIA from harassing her and set aside the summons. She further sought that all documents pertaining to the investigation be brought before the court.
Additional District & Sessions Judge Misbah Khan sought a reply from FIA by 04.02.2020.
FIA denying allegations of harassment disclosed that it was conducting an inquiry against Sandal Khattak on a complaint registered by anchorperson Mubashir Luqman.
|9||December 2019||Criminal Appeal 522 of 2019 filed before the Sindh High Court (SHC) requested the Court to set aside orders of the 1st Magistrate Court, South Karachi, granting permission for investigation and search and seizure. The Court disposed of the appeal on 03.12.2019 and held that the investigation may continue but strictly in accordance with the law whereas in the event the IO deems necessary a warrant for search and seizure under Section 33 PECA he may move a fresh application for the same. The Court also observed that a warrant for search and seizure was not obtained suggesting that a warrant is a requirement under Section 33 PECA for search and seizure.
|8||September 2019||W.P No. 51301/2019 was filed before the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) by Leena Ghani requesting the LHC to direct the Duty Officer to restrain from harassing the Petitioner. The Petitioner had received summonses from FIA ordering her attendance to join an enquiry initiated on the complaint of Ali Zafar accusing Leena Ghani of committing defamation through her tweets. The petition asked the court to direct the FIA to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the Duty Officer, declare the process initiated against the petitioner unlawful, and direct FIA to initiate departmental enquiry against the Duty Officer.
On 16.09.2019, the case was adjourned to 26.09.2019 with direction to the Respondents to submit comments and the Duty Officer was directed to not harass the Petitioner till then.Duty Officer was directed to not harass the Petitioner till then.
|7||23 April 2019||C.P. 2332/2019 was filed before the Sindh High Court against the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for negligence which led to the loss of the evidence file in case 947/2017 pending before a Sessions Court in Karachi. The petition states that “despite repeated requests by the petitioner, the FIA has failed to recover the lost police file, refused to provide any explanation for the loss of evidence, or disclose if they have in their possession any alternative or substitute to the original evidentiary record.” The petition requests the SHC to direct the FIA to produce the evidence in the lost evidence file including the seizure memo immediately or provide alternative best evidence for the trial to commence in a fair manner, and direct the FIA to conduct a thorough inquiry into the lost evidence file. Notices were issued on 23.04.2019 to the FIA to submit a response by 21.05.2019.
On 18.09.2019, the FIA informed the Court that the entire police file had been recovered and FIA was ready to proceed with the trial. The matter was disposed off on 30.09.2019 whereby the Court ordered the trial court to conclude the trial within two months.
The Sindh High Court called for a compliance report of order dated 30.09.2019 from the Sessions Court vide letter dated 02.12.2019. In response to that report the Sessions Judge wrote that the matter is adjourned without progress on every date due to non-production of prosecution witnesses and police file by the prosecution; that the delay is on the part of the prosecution and not the Court.
On 21.01.2020 the Petitioner filed an application before the Court requesting notice of non-compliance of its order dated 30.09.2020. The Court disposed off the application and held that the application has become infructuous as the trial is proceeding. The Petitioner filed another application on 08.10.2020 requesting notice of non-compliance of the court’s order dated 30.09.2020. The Court called for a compliance report from the trial court via its order dated 08.10.2020.
|6||18 February 2019||Awami Workers Party (AWP) filed W.P. No. 634/2019 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for blocking AWP’s website. In addition to asking the court to unblock its website, the “AWP urged the court to guard the fundamental rights of citizens in online spaces and to compel PTA to exercise its powers of blocking online content strictly in accordance with the law.”
AWP’s website was blocked on 3 July 2018. Prior to filing the writ petition, AWP had approached the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on 06 June 2018, asking the ECP to issue directions to the PTA to unblock its website.
On 18.02.2019, the IHC admitted the petition and issued directions to the PTA to file comments within a fortnight. No comments were filed by the PTA when the case came up for hearing on 20.03.19. The IHC said it would hold PTA Chairman in contempt if a response was not submitted within a fortnight. The Petition was disposed off on 12.09.2019 in favour of Awami Workers Party. The website has been restored.
The PTA in its response argued that Section 37 PECA empowered authority to block websites without notice or affording an opportunity of hearing to the person whom the decision could affect . The IHC held that this interpretation of Section 37 PECA is in flagrant violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution. The Court held that the principles of natural justice are required to be read in every statute and it is mandatory for the authority to observe requirements of due process under Article 10-A of the Constitution before passing any order. The Court also held that it was PTA’s statutory duty to prescribe and notify Rules under Section 37 PECA and therefore directed the authority to fulfil its statutory obligations “at the earliest, preferably within ninety days from the date of receiving a certified copy of this order”.
Accordingly, the Petition was disposed of on 12.09.2019 in favour of Awami Workers Party.
On 16.10.2020, the Islamabad High court, during the hearing of contempt petition filed in relation to non compliance of directions of the Court to frame rules under S. 37 (2) PECA, directed that the Petition be clubbed with the Tik Tok ban petition W.P. 3028/2020 filed before the same Court and be taken up along with it on 23.10.2020.
|5||13 March 2018||Media Matters for Democracy filed W.P. 951/2018 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), challenging the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s move to shut down Twitter, Facebook for 30 hours on 25 November 2017, after violent protests broke out at Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad. On 13.03.2018, the court ordered comments to be filed.
Prior to filing the petition, on 4 December 2017, MMFD had filed a Right to Information request, asking for the “notification letter received by the PTA from the government for the suspension of social media including Facebook and Twitter on 25 November 2017 in the midst of recent Faizabad Dharna.” No response was received from PTA. Following this, MMFD sent PTA a notice saying the suspension of the platforms was “unnecessary and unproportionate, and ultra vires the mandate of Section 37.” The notice called upon PTA “to tender a public apology for violating fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan within 7 days, the failure of which will compel a lawsuit against the Authority.”
The Petition was clubbed with W.P. No. 634/2019 filed by Awami Workers Party against the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for blocking their website.
The PTA had argued that Section 37 PECA empowered authority to block websites without notice or affording an opportunity of hearing to the person whom the decision could affect . The IHC held that this interpretation of Section 37 PECA is in flagrant violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution. The Court held that the principles of natural justice are required to be read in every statute and it is mandatory for the authority to observe requirements of due process under Article 10-A of the Constitution before passing any order. The Court also held that it was PTA’s statutory duty to prescribe and notify Rules under Section 37 PECA and therefore directed the authority to fulfil its statutory obligations “at the earliest, preferably within ninety days from the date of receiving a certified copy of this order”.
Accordingly, the Petition was disposed of on 12.09.201 along with W.P. No. 634/2019.
|4||20 November 2017||Upon the directions of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Bolo Bhi submitted a response to court in W.P. No. 4994/2014 Bolo Bhi etc versus Federation of Pakistan, etc. The petition, filed in 2014, challenged the Federation of Pakistan and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) powers to issue directions and block content on the Internet.
In August 2016, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) came into effect with content management powers given to the PTA under Section 37. During this time, the Ministry of Interior instructed the FIA to monitor and act against content on social media. In its written submission, Bolo Bhi contended the Federation of Pakistan had no legal authority to regulate internet content under the Telecom Act and/or PECA and that a transitory and unregulated power granted to PTA via Section 37 of PECA could not be abused to regulate content on the internet for an indefinite period.
In order dated 25.05.2018, the IHC held that while the PTA was exclusively vested with the powers and jurisdiction to decide matters described under Section 37 (1) of PECA 2016, this was to be done independently and uninfluenced by any direction issued/information placed before it by the Federal Government. It held that while exercising such power and discretion, the Authority must not act “arbitrarily and capriciously.”
|3||06 July 2017||Pakistan Press Foundation moved the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through W.P. 2529/2017 to declare “Sections 9, 10, 11, 20, 25, 26 and 37 of the PECA to be ultra vires of the Fundamental Rights Chapter and in particular Article 19 of the Constitution.” The petition argued these provisions violated the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution as well as Pakistan’s international commitments “as a State Party to the ICCPR” and were therefore “illegal and unconstitutional.”
Notices were issued to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom and the Ministry of Law and Justice through the deputy attorney general on 10.12.2018. According to the IHC court diary, the IHC ordered on 26.11.2019 an in-person appearance of a “Senior representative of PTA'' to be questioned “regarding the rule making process”. The petition has not been called for a hearing since.
|2||07 June 2017||C.P. 3927/2017 filed by nine citizens before the Sindh High Court (SHC) against the Ministry of Interior and FIA challenging the detentions and arrests of activists and journalists under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. The petitioners viewed FIA action as a violation of due process of law and fundamental rights. The petition argued that criticism of the armed forces did not constitute a criminal offence, nor did it fall within the exceptions to Article 19. The petitioners contended the “government and the FIA, through both their statements and their actions, have created a chilling effect on freedom of speech and deliberately hindered the public exercise of the rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution by obstructing the right of citizens to even engage in constructive criticism.”
Notices were issued to the FIA and they were directed to submit a response. On 06.07.2019, the FIA submitted a response to court.
|1||23 May 2017||Journalist Taha Siddiqui filed W.P. No. 1956/2017 before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against intimidation and harassment by the FIA. As stated in the petition, on 18.05.2017 Siddiqui received a phone call from an officer of the FIA’s counterterrorism wing, instructing him to appear before them for interrogation regarding his “opinion on certain issues” and “journalistic pieces” by him. According to the petition, the officer acted without lawful authority. The IHC issued notices to the FIA to appear before the court on 29.05.2017 and restrained them from harassing the petitioner, instructing them to proceed in accordance with the law. Despite court orders, the FIA issued a summon directing Siddiqui to appear before them for questioning, failure to do which would carry legal consequences.
W.P. 588/2020, Raja Ahsan Mahmood Satti vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.
W.P. 2210/2020, Asad Baig vs Federation of Pakistan etc filed before the Islamabad High Court challenged the legality of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020. PTA has said that the Rules are not enforceable as they have not been published in the official gazette. Court directed the respondents to submit written comments.