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Pakistani activists condemn ban on TikTok

Head of Catholic TV says attack on freedom of expression is a political ploy

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Pakistani activists condemn ban on TikTok
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Catholic groups have joined activists in condemning Pakistani authorities for blocking the video-sharing application TikTok.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked the app citing complaints from different segments of society “against immoral/indecent content.”

“Keeping in view the complaints and nature of the content being consistently posted on TikTok, PTA issued a final notice to the application and gave considerable time to respond and comply with the authority’s instructions for development of an effective mechanism for proactive moderation of unlawful online content,” Khurram Ali Mehran, PTA’s director of public relations, said in an Oct. 9 statement.

“However, the application failed to fully comply with the instructions, therefore directions were issued for blocking TikTok in the country. TikTok has been informed that the PTA is open for engagement and will review its decision subject to a satisfactory mechanism by TikTok to moderate unlawful content.”

The app has been installed nearly 43 million times in Pakistan, including 14.7 million times this year alone, according to data from research firm SensorTower. In June, India’s government banned nearly 60 Chinese mobile apps, including TikTok, citing national security concerns.

“In the name of a campaign against vulgarity, people are being denied the right to express themselves online. The #TikTokBan comes against a backdrop where voices are muted on television, columns vanish from newspapers, websites are blocked and television ads banned,” stated Amnesty International in a tweet.

“We hope this disappointing decision is reversed immediately and efforts are made to loosen the grip over what the people in Pakistan can read, watch, speak, write or do.”

Father Morris Jalal, founder and executive director of cable-based Catholic TV, condemned the move.

“This is yet another attack on our freedom of expression. This is more of a political strategy than a moral issue. The government cannot tolerate criticism. The app promoted local talents and products. The ban will also affect business as everything goes online amid the pandemic,” he told UCA News. 

In July, PTA published an advertisement warning netizens against posting or sharing material based on blasphemy and religious enmity on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube after the Supreme Court took notice of social media being used as a medium to humiliate judges, the armed forces and the government.

Rights groups say the PTA has blocked more than 800,000 websites including pornographic platforms, news outlets considered critical of the country's security and foreign policies, some social media and certain political parties' websites from being accessed within the country.

In September 2012, the government banned access to YouTube until 2016 to comply with a court order that sought to prohibit online content considered blasphemous by Muslims, such as the low-budget film Innocence of Muslims, which sparked violent protests across the country.

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