The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority in a letter issued to the Editorial Board of Balochistan Affairs has decided to geofence/block its viewership in Pakistan on the grounds that its content is harmful to the integrity, sovereignty, and security of Pakistan.
In an initial notice served to Balochistan Affairs, the PTA notice read “It has been reported to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (“PTA”) that the Website i.e https://balochistanaffairs.com/ is involved in dissemination of content with intent to ridicule, defame the Armed Forces of Pakistan, circulated false reports containing rumors or alarming news to promote ill-will in order to provoke anti-state sentiments, cause disharmony, feelings of enmity among masses at large which is prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of Pakistan. Per se it is in contravention with section 37 (1) of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (“PECA”), constitute offences under section 121-A, 153-A, 500-A, 505 of Pakistan Penal Code (“PPC”), section 10 of PECA and section 13 of Anti National Activities Act, 1974.”.
It further threatened to block the entire online presence of Balochistan Affairs if it did not comply with the orders in the notice.
“In view of the above, you are hereby issued with this notice under Rule 6 (2) of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rule 2020 to remedy the aforementioned contravention by removing content related to defamation of Armed Forces of Pakistan, Hate Speech, Public Mischief and Anti-State content prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty, security of Pakistan within (24) hrs of the issuance of this notice and submit compliance report through return email. PTA has also been empowered under Rule 6 (5) read with Rule 8 of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rule 2020 to issue directions for blocking of the entire Online System, or any service provided by such Service Providers owned or managed by the said Service Provider or Social Media Company”.
However, the PTA did not provide any explanation for the notice.
While challenging the PTA notice via email, the Editorial Board of Balochistan Affairs wrote that the PTA has not provided any specific reference from our website to support its notice nor anything for us to comprehend what constitutes to be unlawful and anti-state, therefore, we consider the notice to be implausible and not inexplicit.
It further informed the PTA that Balochistan Affairs is guided by an independent editorial policy to inform the readers who have access to its content of reliable and authentic news and analyses related to Balochistan, which unfortunately happens to be the hardest hit with a severe media blackout. This they said can be corroborated by credible and independent human rights organizations and media outlets.
The PTA did not consider the response by Balochistan Affairs and decided to block its viewership in Pakistan.
In official order No: PTA/WAD/112/202 l/550, on behalf of the Director Web Analysis Division of PTA on 30 August 2021, the PTA confirmed that Balochistan Affairs has been blocked in Pakistan forthwith, meaning that the content of Balochistan Affairs will be inaccessible to the viewers in Pakistan.
The website clampdown reflects Pakistan’s track record of disregarding the rights of the people of Balochistan.
According to the Editorial Board of Balochistan Affairs, the content of their website is in line with the domestic and international laws advocating freedom of speech and free flow of information.
However, the decision of PTA goes in clear violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Pakistan is a signatory of.
The multilateral treaty says, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers”.
“Blocking of Balochistan Affairs’ website is a stain on Pakistan’s conduct as a democratic state that no amount of excuse can justify. We will not be intimidated by this unjust decision of the PTA and will continue to cover Balochistan”, said the Editorial Board of Balochistan Affairs.