Fact-check: PTA can't pass the buck. It alone has legal authority to block X (Twitter)

The cybercrime law and court judgements clearly state that only PTA is authorised to block or remove access to information online.

By
Geo Fact-Check

When asked about the over month-long ban on X (Twitter) in Pakistan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s chairman brushed off responsibility alleging that social media platforms in the country are routinely shut down after orders from the government.

The claim is false.

Claim

In an interview to Dawn.com on March 19, Major General (retd) Hafeez Ur Rehman, the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) was questioned about X being banned since February 17.

Rehman replied: “The closure of social media forums is always directed by the interior ministry.”

Fact

The law and court judgements clarify that the PTA alone is legally authorised to block or remove access to any information online.

Section 37 of Pakistan’s cybercrime law, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, clearly states that PTA alone has the “power to remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan…”

Section 37 of Pakistan’s cybercrime law, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.
Section 37 of Pakistan’s cybercrime law, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. 

The same was reinforced by the Islamabad High Court in a 2018 verdict.

On section 37 of PECA, Justice Athar Minallah wrote: “It is obvious… that the PTA has been vested with exclusive powers to decide matters related to removal or blocking of access to any information through any information system or for issuing directions in respect thereto.”

The Court further added that section 37 “unambiguously shows” that any direction issued by the federal government is “not binding” on the PTA.

It also noted that the PTA is required to exercise its powers “independently and without being influenced by any direction or information laid before it by the federal government”. 

While in a 2019 judgment regarding the blocking of Awami Workers Party’s website, the Islamabad High Court wrote that PTA blocking websites without notice or affording an opportunity of hearing to the person was a “flagrant violation of fundamental rights”.

Geo Fact Check also reached out to PTA to ask on whose direction was X banned in Pakistan. Its spokesperson said: “We do not have any comments to offer on this matter.”


With additional reporting by Saman Amjad.

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