KARACHI: A day after over 100 rights organisations and individuals announced a boycott of talks with the government on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 unless the rules were revoked, the authorities have clarified that the implementation of rules had already been suspended.
On Sunday, the rights groups in a statement said the government had refused to clarify the legal status of the rules without which “any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input”.
When Dawn approached Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa to seek clarification on the current status of the rules, he said: “The rules are expected to be improved/amended suitably at the end of consultation process. Implementation of [existing] rules has been suspended.”
The prime minister earlier announced consultation with stakeholders after cabinet approval of the rules had attracted sharp opposition from various quarters including the companies that manage different social media platforms.
On Feb 29, the memo document of the rules — labelled ‘to be published in the official gazette’— was removed from the website of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.
On Monday, the PTA chairman-led committee that the IT ministry formed following the premier’s instruction for consultation with stakeholders held its first meeting despite the boycott of talks announced by over 100 rights organisations and individuals.
Additional secretary of IT Eazaz Aslam Dar, Digital Pakistan head Tania Aidrus and focal person on digital media Dr Arslan Khalid were committee members, while federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari and Barrister Ali Zafar are also expected to be involved in the process.
The committee decided to immediately initiate a “broad-based, open consultation process with all stakeholders including civil society, human and digital rights groups, social media platforms to solicit constructive input to address the concerns expressed by different forums”, according to PTA’s press release issued after the meeting.
The PTA said a questionnaire seeking input from all stakeholders and a tentative schedule for consultation process would be posted on its official website.
PM’s focal person on digital media Arslan Khalid said all proceedings would be “inclusive” and done in a “transparent” manner. “The rules have not been implemented. Prime Minister Imran Khan has clearly instructed for robust and broad-based consultations before any rules can be put into place,” he told Dawn.