TikTok has finally been unbanned in Pakistan. The frequent see-sawing between banning and unbanning the app is an apt illustration of the judicial and policy dysfunction facing our country.
In March earlier this year the Peshawar High Court banned TikTok over allegations of immoral content. In April, the ban was lifted. Two months later, the Sindh High Court ordered the social media platform to be banned for similar reasons. The order was revoked three days later. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court went in a completely different direction, stating that the TikTok ban violated fundamental constitutional rights. In few other countries are you likely to find judiciaries that are so involved in policymaking, and vary so wildly in their responses, especially as they face a backlog of more than 2 million pending cases.
The most recent ban on TikTok however was placed by the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency. PTA has its own problems. Its authority to block access to apps and websites comes from Section 37 of the 2016 Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. But Section 37(2) states that PTA must have rules in place to ensure transparency and oversight mechanisms for the blocking process. Those rules were finally issued in 2020, after being drafted in a completely opaque manner, and unsurprisingly lack any real accountability measures. Section 37(5) also states that any decision by the PTA to block a website can be appealed, and the appeal must be heard in a High Court within 30 days. That has not happened either.
With such a heavy-handed arbitrary approach to online regulation, Pakistan faces an uncertain digital future.
KSE-100 fell this week, registering the largest single-day decline of 2021 on Thursday as high import numbers dented investor confidence. PKR depreciated further this week to record lows, as concerns rose over a widening trade deficit. Local gold prices fell too this week, in line with international prices.
What Else We’re Reading (Local)
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What Else We’re Reading (International)