The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday issued notices to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and other respondents to submit their response in a case questioning the legitimacy of new social media regulations i.e. the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.

However, the court rejected the request to immediately suspend applicability of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, and directed the respondents to present their answers in the miscellaneous application.

As the hearing resumed, the petitioner contended that the government aimed to curtail the freedom of expression by “controlling the social media”.

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IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah responded, “Regulations are done all over the world.”

Advocate Jahangir Khan Jadoon pleaded with the court to ask the government about the status of the new rules being imposed on the social media in Pakistan.

The court was also informed that for the implementation of the new rules, a National Coordinator has been appointed, and has been granted more powers than required.

“The procedure of his (national coordinator’s) appointment and qualifications as requirement to fulfill the duties is still unknown,” Jadoon maintained, adding that the social media rules were contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the court also directed to fix today’s application for hearing together with proceedings of another plea regarding the same case.

According to details, all companies including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Tick Tok, under the new set of rules, are required to register and establish an office in Islamabad within three months.

The global social media platforms and companies have been conditioned to appoint a focal person in Pakistan and are required to build a data server in Pakistan within a year.

Action(s) could be taken against those who speak out against national institutions and national sovereignty.

The government will appoint a National Coordinator (NC) within 15 days after the commencement of these rules, who will be responsible for coordination, advising the federal and provincial governments, and engaging with social media companies. He will also have the power to summon focal persons of any company to discuss how they operate their businesses.

The Ministry of Information and Telecommunications or the National Coordinator can ask any social media company to remove, suspend or disable access to such content within 24 hours. Urgent situations will require action within six hours.