Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has ordered a ban on the TikTok social media platform over alleged “obscene content”, the second time the app has been banned in the South Asian country in less than six months.
The Peshawar High Court’s Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan made the ruling during a hearing into a petition against the platform on Thursday.
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Khan described some videos uploaded on the popular platform as being “unacceptable for Pakistani society”, and ordered the country’s internet regulator to ban the service until it put in place content controls deemed acceptable by the court.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) “will comply to court orders”, the regulator’s spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Al Jazeera.
TikTok challenged the ruling saying it has guidelines to monitor content.
“TikTok is built upon the foundation of creative expression, with strong safeguards in place to keep inappropriate content off the platform,” the company said in a statement.
“In Pakistan we have grown our local-language moderation team, and have mechanisms to report and remove content in violation of our community guidelines. We look forward to continuing to serve the millions of TikTok users and creators in Pakistan who have found a home for creativity and fun.”
In October, the PTA banned TikTok over similar allegations, saying the platform had failed to filter out “immoral and indecent” content.
Ten days later, it lifted the ban, saying Pakistani authorities had been assured by TikTok’s management that “they will block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality”.
The platform, which allows users to share short videos with each other, is hugely popular in the South Asian nation of 220 million people, and has more than 20 million active monthly users, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.
Popular Pakistani users on the platform have follower counts in the hundreds of thousands of users.
Use of the internet is heavily regulated in Pakistan with the PTA empowered under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) to block content on a broad range of criteria, including for being against “the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or … public order, decency or morality”.
Rights groups say the process and criteria of blocking content has long been opaque and often violates citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.
The country scored 26 out of 100 on the US-based Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom of the Net index, which said, “The online environment in Pakistan is tightly controlled by the government.”
In November, Pakistan passed a draconian new set of regulations to strengthen the PTA’s powers under PECA and requiring social media platforms with more than 500,000 users to establish offices in Pakistan.