TikTok was banned in Pakistan on Thursday, according to local media reports, in another blow to the viral video app’s ambitions in south Asia after it was shut down in neighbouring India last summer.
The Peshawar High Court ordered a ban on TikTok over “immoral and objectionable” content on the platform, reported Pakistani news channel ARY News.
“TikTok videos are peddling vulgarity in society,” said chief justice Qaiser Rashid Khan, adding that the app should be banned until it complies with authorities.
TikTok was previously shut down in Pakistan, a majority Muslim country of 200m people, in October after complaints over “indecent” content on the platform, though it came back online less than two weeks later. SensorTower estimated that over the past year, TikTok accumulated more than 18m downloads in Pakistan.
The ban on the app is another hit to Chinese-owned TikTok in the region, after it was shut out of India on security grounds last June following a violent border clash between Indian and Chinese troops.
While China is a close “iron brother” ally of Pakistan, the content on TikTok — the third most popular app in the country behind WhatsApp and Facebook — has been considered vulgar by conservatives. Some argued, however, that the move to ban the platform was intended primarily to curb criticism of Imran Khan, the prime minister.
At the time of the first ban, Pakistani journalist and commentator Najam Sethi said that TikTok was not banned because of immoral content “but because TikTokers are poking fun of the Great Leader”.
In November, Pakistan rolled out new digital laws that give regulators blanket powers to censor content. The Asia Internet Coalition, a regional business group that represents companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter, called the new rules “draconian”.
The rules oblige companies to remove offensive content, including that which threatens the “integrity, security and defence of Pakistan”, and help law enforcement agencies access data. Those who violate the rules can be subject to fines of more than $3m.
Jehan Ara, a former president of P@SHA, the Pakistan Software Houses Association, said after Thursday’s court order that any abrupt policy change could harm growth in the country’s IT sector. “Any change of policy at the drop of a hat is not good. It discourages people [foreign IT entrepreneurs] from entering the IT sector and it is detrimental to growth.”
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.