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Sunday, July 14, 2024  
07 Muharram 1446  

PPP to challenge PECA amendments in courts

Opposition, HRCP, journalist fraternity condemn ordinance to regulate social media
Gillani joined his party, other opposition parties, rights bodies, and the journalist fraternity in condemning the ordinance to regulate social media despite the government’s claim that the legislation was not contradictory to Article 19 of the Constitution and aimed at countering “fake news”. AFP/File
Gillani joined his party, other opposition parties, rights bodies, and the journalist fraternity in condemning the ordinance to regulate social media despite the government’s claim that the legislation was not contradictory to Article 19 of the Constitution and aimed at countering “fake news”. AFP/File

The Pakistan Peoples Party on Monday decided to move court against the government’s amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016 and alleged that such legislation was aimed at harassing the media.

“The government wants to ban the media under the amendments to Peca. Such a move shows the government’s fear as it wants to hide its incompetencies,” said PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gillani in a press conference in Lahore.

Gillani joined his party, other opposition parties, rights bodies, and the journalist fraternity in condemning the ordinance to regulate social media. The government claims that the legislation does not contradict Article 19 of the Constitution and is instead aimed at countering “fake news”.

President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday promulgated an ordinance to amend Peca and also signed the ordinance making changes in the Elections Act, 2017. According to Law Minister Farogh Nasim, spreading fake news would be a non-bailable and cognizable offence under a planned amendment to the legislation.

Salient features of the PECA amendment are:

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

Former prime minister Gillani said all the political parties reject the ordinance and alleged that the ruling party lawmakers do not believe in parliament. “Parliament should not be ignored.”

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 received the top award for being in the 10 best performing federal ministries.

There was a quick response from the opposition, the journalist fraternity and rights bodies to the ordinance.

PML-N leader Maryan Nawaz was of the view that such an ordinance would ultimately be used against PM Imran Khan and his team.

Moreover, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani lamented the government’s move amounted to bypassing parliament from having a national debate on the changes.

“The proposed legislation converts bailable offences to non-bailable offences. The punishment for defaming a person or an institution on social media from two years is being increased to five years. This is condemned. This is placing fetters on the fundamental rights of the citizens and can not be done without a national debate, that is through legislation in parliament,” he was quoted as saying in a handout.

In a tweet, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said: “The proposed laws that aim to increase the jail term for online criticism of the state from two to five years, and make it a non-bailable offence, are undemocratic and will inevitably be used to clamp down on dissenters and critics of the government and state institutions.”

It reminded the government and state functionaries were accountable to citizens as elected state representatives and public servants. “It is their job to heed criticism,” it read and demanded of the government to roll back the proposed ordinance.

The Pakistan Union of Journalists had also expressed concerns over “shrinking space” for freedom of expression through proposed amendments to Peca. In a statement, it called for the withdrawal of “black clauses” in the Act and appealed to lawmakers to block such legislation from being approved by parliament. “There are already provisions in the Constitution of the country which protect the integrity and dignity of the judiciary and the armed forces,” it read.

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Ordinance

PPP

Yousuf Raza Gilani

social media

PFUJ

HRCP

PECA