March 1st, 2022
By Ahmed Saeed & Rehan Piracha
Lawyers, journalists, and civil society organizations have reacted strongly to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s defense of the controversial cybercrime ordinance in his address to the nation, saying that it seems the premiere was unaware of all facts in this regard.
The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Amendment Ordinance was meant to stop the filth coming on social media through fake news, the Prime Minister said in his televised address to the nation on February 28. He said mafias were doing blackmail under the guise of media freedom.
Reacting to the PM’s speech, Shahzada Zulfiqar, President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, said linking press freedom with blackmail was beyond comprehension.
The federal government promulgated the PECA Ordinance two weeks ago to increase the scope and penalties of the cybercrime law. The ordinance makes online defamation a non-bailable offence, giving the Federal Investigation Agency powers to arrest accused persons. However, civil society and PFUJ have challenged the ordinance in the Islamabad High Court.
Kamran Murtaza, Senator from Jamiat Ulema Islam- Fazl and also a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was of the view that the Prime Minister should have refrained from commenting on a matter under judicial review.
Rejecting the PM’s assertion of reinforcing defamation laws in the country, Salahuddin Ahmed, former president of Sindh High Court Bar Association, said there was no need of bringing an ordinance to amend the cybercrime law as the defamation laws in Pakistan were considered harsh as compared to western countries. “It is incomprehensible why the government has made online defamation a non-bailable offense under criminal law while in the rest of the world it has been decriminalized,” he told Voicepk.net.
Digital rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad said the PECA Amendment Ordinance was brought about in an unconstitutional manner. The government should have consulted stakeholders if it wanted to make amendments in the cybercrime law. She said the PM’s defence of the PECA Ordinance was fraught with inaccuracies.
Usama Khilji, Executive Director of Bolo Bhi, said the government wanted to muzzle criticism against it through the PECA ordinance. “The government is operating in a dictatorial and authoritarian manner,” he said. The civil society, journalists and opposition parties had rejected the PECA Ordinance and called for bringing it before the parliament.
On March 1 during hearing of a case, Chief Justice Athar Minallah of the Islamabad High Court observed that the Prime Minister was not provided proper assistance regarding the cybercrime ordinance. The IHC is to resume hearing on petitions challenging the PECA Ordinance on March 10.