ISLAMABAD      -    The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has declared that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is not empowered to block any website in violation of due process and without hearing the other party.

Besides this, a single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah has also directed the PTA to frame within three months the rules for blocking ‘unwanted’ websites after it learnt that the PTA had blocked over 800,000 websites in violation of the statutory provision.

The PTA revealed about blocking of these sites before the court during the hearing of a petition filed against the blocking of the website of left-wing Awami Watan Party (AWP).

After the PTA admission that the “rules [related to blocking of websites] have not been prescribed yet” even three years after the enactment of relevant laws, the IHC Chief Justice observed that under such circumstances, “blocking of website was indeed in violation of the principles of natural justice”.

The PTA under sub-section 1 of Section 37 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 has been empowered to block the websites if the content is against the glory of Islam, integrity, security and defense of Pakistan, public order, morality or contemptuous.

However, the IHC bench observed that under sub-section 2 of PECA’s Section 37, “the authority shall, with the approval of the federal government, prescribe rules providing for, among other matters, safeguards, transparent process and effective oversight mechanism for exercise of power under sub-section 1.

In its detailed order, the IHC observed, “The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is definitely not empowered to pass an order or take action under section 37 of the Act of 2016 in derogation of the mandatory requirements of due process. It is further noted that it is a statutory duty of the PTA to prescribe the rules contemplated by the legislature under sub-section 2 of section 37 of the Act.”

“It is mandatory for the authority to prescribe rules for the purpose described under Section 37(2) of the Act,” the court order added.