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Sunday, July 14, 2024  
07 Muharram 1446  

President Alvi promulgates ordinance aimed at countering ‘fake news’

Law Minister Farogh Nasim says spreading ‘fake news’ will be non-bailable and non-cognizable offence under amendment to PECA
President Alvi also signed the ordinance making changes in the Elections Act, 2017. APP/File
President Alvi also signed the ordinance making changes in the Elections Act, 2017. APP/File
Law Minister Farogh Nasim addresses a press conference in Karachi. PID
Law Minister Farogh Nasim addresses a press conference in Karachi. PID

President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016, aimed at countering fake news, amid the opposition and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's concerns over the tweak, Aaj News reported.

President Alvi also signed the ordinance making changes in the Elections Act, 2017.

Farogh Nasim presser

Law Minister Farogh Nasim on Sunday said the planned amendment in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) was aimed at countering the “fake news,” stressing that spreading such information would be a non-bailable and cognizable offence and the punishment was now increased from three years to five years.

“You all are aware of what our neighbour is doing, the amount of false news they are propagating. In order to counter fake news, it is very important [to have such an amendment],” he said while addressing a press conference in Karachi.

According to media reports, such a need for legislation from the government has also come in the past when it was criticised for its “policies” on social media. This time, the development comes in the wake of a malicious campaign on social media against the first lady and the use of derogatory remarks for Communications Minister Murad Saeed on a TV show. The federal minister got first place among the 10 best performing federal ministries at a ceremony.

Elaborating on the details of the amendment, which has been presented before the cabinet, he said the punishment for spreading the fake news would be five years instead of three years and it would be a non-bailable offence.

Salient features of the PECA amendment

  • Non-bailable offence
  • Cognizable offence
  • Complainant can be public at large
  • Punishment increased from three years to five years
  • Trial to be conducted within six months
  • If trial is not complete within six months, disciplinary proceedings could be conducted against judge
  • No one is exempt to ordinance
  • Counter fake news

Moreover, he said it would be a cognizable offence, ending the debate for non-cog

According to the Pakistan Penal Code, “Cognizable offence means an offence for, and cognizable case’ means ease in which a police officer, may, in accordance with the second Schedule or under any law for the time being in force, arrest without warrant.”

In addition to this, “non-cognizable offence means an offence for, and ‘non-cognizable case’ means a case in which a police officer, may not arrest with our warrant.”

The complainant in the case could be “public at large,” he said, adding that the amendment was for public figures or holders of a public office if something happens them against.

Giving an example, he said that if any statement was made against actor Nadeem then it was not necessary that only the actor could complain. Any member of the public at large could come and complain, he said, adding: “In addition to this, the trail for the complaint would be completed within six months and if it does not then the relevant high court will ask the relevant judge for such a delay and if those reasons are not plausible then disciplinary proceedings can be conducted against that judge. If the trial judge can’t conclude the case within six months, then he/she will write a letter to the CJP.”

The minister highlighted the gravity of the amendment, adding that the required tweak in Peca was discussed with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed, and Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid. “This is the amendment to the Peca statute.”

On the second ordinance on the Election Act, Nasim said the idea was to allow political parties to conduct canvassing, which was the “constitutional right.” He added that the 48 hours’ time limit would remain intact.

“No one is exempted to this PECA ordinance,” the minister said while responding to a question. “This is applicable to all. Now we should have the right direction. We should have a path towards truth. You can criticize, it’s your constitutional right, and no one is stopping you. But no to fake news.”

He further clarified that the tweak was not an attempt to suppress dissent and it was not contradictory to Article 19 or 19A of the Constitution. The minister reiterated that the ordinance was “solely” based on countering fake news.

Giving an example of fake news, he said: “It’s fine if you [journalists] criticise or support my point of view. But it's not right when you say I was not here addressing the press conference.” He further lamented the “kind” of words were used for former chief justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and the fake news pertaining to divorce and separation between PM Imran and First Lady Bushra Bibi.

Under the ordinance, he said the state was providing a legal right to start conducting a defamation suit and criminal proceedings with the complaint.

On Human Rights Commission of Pakistan concerns over the ordinance, the minister said he was not aware of the development and called for an interaction with them. He expressed hope that the HRCP would review its decision after the meeting.

He further stressed the need for bringing amendments to the old laws in order to have a progressive society. “It’s up to the court how it interprets the tweak whether it’s retrospective or prospective,” he said in a query if the ordinance was applicable to old complaints.

Nasim also said that the person, who was arrested on a complaint and his/her offence could not be proved, could also file a complaint under the ordinance.

“This is not for the elite. We should not have fake news,” he said, “Fourth pillar of the state [media] role is very important in this regard.”

He admitted that the recent development in the Qandeel Baloch murder case was not “appropriate.”

The minister also said that people “should not buy into opposition narrative” and called for a thorough review before making any statement. “Making an ordinance is not unconstitutional.”

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