On October 19, only 10 days after it was introduced, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) lifted its ban on TikTok.
After the Chinese company, ByteDance assured authorities it would moderate content in compliance with Pakistan's laws, the regulator said it was reversing its decision.
After the mobile video app failed to comply with the regulator's instructions to adopt "effective mechanisms for proactive moderation of illegal online content," the PTA ordered the ban, it said in a statement on 9 October.
Under the Electronic Crimes Act of Pakistan (PEC 2016), dubbed by digital rights activists as draconian, the PTA has the power to order service providers to block or remove any piece of content online.
A number of services have previously been blocked, including YouTube, which was banned for 3 years from 2013-2016. After the Google-owned video-sharing website launched a local version that allows the government to demand the removal of material it considers offensive, it removed the three-year prohibition on YouTube. In August 2020, to remove objectionable content from its platform, PTA wrote to Youtube again. The Authority also blocked the online South Korean game PUBG, after reaching an agreement with the legal representatives of Proxima Beta Pte Ltd (PB), the maker of the game, before lifting the ban on July 30.
Since its popularity spiked in Pakistan in the past two years, there has been a lot of online debate about banning TikTok.
"A civil petition was filed in Lahore High Court in July 2019 seeking a national ban on TikTok, claiming the app was" a big mistake of modern times "and was" destroying young people and promoting immoral activities.
Arslan Khalid, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's digital media adviser, tweeted in July this year:
The government revised its rules to block online content on October 2. The federal government has issued a notice for the implementation of new social media rules, according to the Digital Rights Monitor, but the actual draft of the rules is not yet available on the PTA and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT) websites.
A group of 12 civil society organizations, journalists' unions, and more than 49 individuals have issued a statement to express their concern about the new rules. They said that there was no consultation on the revised draft with all stakeholders.
The government's notification stated that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is authorized to remove any online content that it considers to be unlawful; the unlawful criteria are described in section 37 of the Act, sub-section (1). The subsection states that the PTA can and should remove it, without prejudice, if the online content goes against the glory of Islam, the integrity, security, and defense of Pakistan, or public order, health, safety, decency, or morality.
In accordance with local regulations for their users in Pakistan, all social media companies such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will have to put up community guidelines. Platforms with more than half a million Pakistani users will have to register with the PTA and, within nine months of the implementation of the rules, establish a registered office in the country.
A letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan was written by the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association that includes internet companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Twitter, expressing regret that it was not consulted during the development of such rules.
The ban on TikTok was met with a lot of criticism.
At the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and the Singh High Court, two civil petitions contesting the ban were filed earlier this month.
The petitions argued that TikTok "provides a platform for talented Pakistani citizens to exercise their right to express themselves and to demonstrate creativity" and that the ban was a "violation of Article 19 of the Constitution" providing for freedom of expression.
Many TikTok stars from Pakistan also criticized the ban. Creator Ashfaq Jutt, who is also the Pakistan Kickboxing Federation's Senior Vice-President, sent PTA a legal notice urging them to repeal the ban as it violated his constitutional rights to information and freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, hashtags like #UnBanTikTok have been trending on Twitter.