22nd December 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The section on cyber defamation under the cybercrime law is unconstitutional and in violation of fundamental rights, counsels for actor-singer Meesha Shafi argued before the Lahore High Court on Wednesday.
Section 20 titled ‘Offences against dignity of a natural person’ of Pakistan Electronic Crime Act 2016 sets maximum imprisonment of three years and a fine of Rs 1 million for the offence of intentionally and publicly transmitting online content that harms the reputation or privacy of a person.
Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh was hearing a petition for cancellation of a first investigation report (FIR) against Shafi and five others by the Federal Investigation Agency for running an alleged smear campaign on social media targeted at actor-singer Ali Zafar. The FIR was registered in September last year. Shafi, Maham Javaid, Iffat Omar, Fariha Ayub, Haseem Uz Zaman Khan, and Syed Faizan Raza were accused of defaming Ali Zafar on social media.
In the last hearing, Shafi’s lawyers had pleaded that the FIR was mala fide and registered to cow down a victim of sexual harassment, Saqib Jillani, one of the counsels of the petitioners, told Voicepk.net.
In the proceedings on Wednesday, Hina Jillani, lead counsel for Shafi, pleaded that Section 20 of the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act 2016 was unconstitutional and in violation of fundamental rights.
In her petition, Shafi had stated that Section 20 gave the investigating agency unfettered powers to prosecute individuals for actions already penalized under two different statutes.
“That Section 20 of the PECA is violative of Article 25 of the Constitution as it does not provide for any reasonable classification and or exceptions under which the offence cannot and should not apply,” Shafi and other petitioners stated.
The petitioners pleaded that Section 20 of PECA also violated Article 19 of the Constitution which guaranteed the right of free speech to citizens.
“The Impugned FIR not only seeks to silence the Petitioners but if upheld, will have the effect of silencing all victims of abuse from coming forward in the future,” the petitioners said.
Shafi and other petitioners also pointed out that the criminal proceedings in the trial court were meant to humiliate and intimidate them. The FIR and the interim Challan against them did not disclose the commission of an offence under Section 20 of PECA, leaving no possibility of their conviction in the case.
In her petition, Shafi said Ali Zafar had lodged a defamation case against her after she filed a complaint to the ombudsperson on the prevention of harassment at the workplace in 2018. Ali Zafar also filed a criminal complaint against her while the civil proceedings were pending, she said, adding that the criminal complaint was based on the same set of facts that were the subject matter of the civil defamation suit.
Saqib Jillani said the counsels for Ali Zafar would present their arguments in the next hearing on December 23.