Kickboxer throws down challenge to Pakistan's TikTok ban

Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt, 34, told Reuters he joined TikTok a year ago because it was becoming a popular platform and was cheaper than traditional advertising. — Ashfaq Jutt/Handout via Reuters

ISLAMABAD: A mixed martial arts specialist is challenging a Pakistani ban on TikTok, the video sharing app on which he was pinning his hopes of gaining a mass audience and helping people get fit.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) last week blocked access to TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, citing unspecified public complaints about "immoral and indecent content".

Muhammad Ashfaq Jutt, 34, told Reuters he joined TikTok a year ago because it was becoming a popular platform and was cheaper than traditional advertising.

"All kinds of people, from street sweepers to day labourers, have come to be world-famous using TikTok so I thought this was a good way to be known as well," Jutt said.

Jutt's petition, which he lodged on Oct 14, calls for guidelines on exactly how content is declared objectionable and his lawyer Usama Khawar said he is hopeful the High Court in Islamabad will overturn the ban.

"The judges asked rhetorically in court, if TikTok can be banned even though it has millions of videos because of a few offensive ones, why can't the whole Internet be shut down?" Khawar said on Oct 15.

TikTok has been downloaded more than 43 million times in Pakistan, analytics firm Sensor Tower said, while the PTA said it is the third most popular social media app after Facebook and WhatsApp, with over 20 million active accounts.

Although he only has 209 followers so far, Jutt hoped to use TikTok to reach ordinary Pakistanis, joining a growing community of influencers in the country, some with millions of followers.

‘Into shape’

Jutt, who has been practicing mixed martial arts for 26 years, is the Senior Vice President of the Pakistan Kickboxing Federation, and says he has won several international titles.

He runs three kickboxing centres in the eastern city of Lahore, including one teaching women self-defence, and his personal training clients include soldiers, police officers, and government officials.

His short-lived TikTok account featured clips of him doing jumping jacks and push-ups, and sparring with students.

"I thought this was a good way for me to help Pakistan, to help people get into shape," Jutt said, adding: "It was going well but then the government decided to ban TikTok."

Critics say the government's move against platforms such as TikTok is not only against freedom of expression, but has also hurt financially.

PTA, which in September blocked five apps including Tinder and Grindr for disseminating "immoral content", said this week it had met with TikTok's senior management to discuss efforts to "improve content moderation".

It also blocked the popular PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds game but reversed the ban after the Islamabad High Court struck it out. The same court is now hearing Jutt's petition challenging the TikTok ban, which is scheduled for next week. – Reuters

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