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Pakistan bans TikTok for the second time

Categories: Pakistan, South-Asia, Advocacy, Campaign, Censorship, Free Expression, Human Rights, Law, Media, Protest, Tech Industry
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels [1]

Photo by cottonbro [2] from Pexels [1]. Used under a Pexels License [3].

Pakistan slapped a second ban on the Chinese app TikTok on March 11 — five months after it had been restored following a first ban.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has ordered all internet service providers to block traffic to the platform in compliance with a ruling [4] handed down by the Peshawar High Court in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which described TikTok content as “obscene, immoral and contrary to tradition.”

The ruling responded to a joint petition filed by 40 Peshawar residents [5] who requested a ban on the video app for violations of constitutional provisions that restrict acts contrary to the Islamic code of life.

The PTA tweeted:

This is the second time TikTok is blocked in the South Asian country. Last October [7], the PTA blocked it without a court order, alleging it had failed to remove unlawful content.

The ban was reversed ten days later [8], after TikTok's parent company ByteDance assured Pakistani authorities it would bolster content moderation.

Analysts at that time said [9] that the main impetus behind the ban was censorship rather than hostility towards China, a close ally of Pakistan.

TikTok responds

After the latest block, TikTok released a statement [10] saying that it uses a combination of technologies and moderation strategies to detect and review content that violates its terms of service and community guidelines.

The company mentions its H2 2020 Transparency Report [11], which showcases examples of content taken down according to Pakistan's laws. However, the company also acknowledged that it was committed to ensuring its users’ rights to express themselves creatively on the platform, as long as if in line with company policies.

TikTok is very popular [12] in Pakistan, and the country's influencers have criticized [13] the ban.

Twitter user Hummayun Chaudhry said:

Political commentator Zafar Raja said:

Human rights activist Gulalai Ismail said:

[…] If the state has to ban something it should be terrorism. […] Young people should install Psiphon VPN, it's free.

In October 2020 [21], Pakistan enacted new regulations [22] for social media platforms forbidding content that is “defamatory, obscene, blasphemous and pornographic.” Platforms that don't comply could be fined [21] up to Rs500 million (US$ 3.22 million).