Islamabad, Feb. 21 (EFE).- Pakistan’s opposition parties, top media and lawyers’ bodies and rights activists on Monday vowed to fiercely oppose a controversial executive order amid fears that it would curb the fundamental rights of citizens and stifle freedom of speech.
Pakistan President Arif Alvi on Sunday promulgated an ordinance amending Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) which criminalizes defamation.
The federal cabinet on Saturday had approved the issuance of presidential ordinance to amend the law through a circulation.
Under the recent Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, the jail term a person can face for defaming another person or institution, such as the army and judiciary, has been increased from three to five years, while also making it a non-bailable offense.
Pakistan People’s Party leader and Senator Yusaf Raza Gillani announced Monday that his party would challenge the amendment in court.
“They (the government) are scared and making draconian laws,” Gillani said at a press conference. “It’s an ordinance factory, the parliament is redundant.”
He further stressed that the amendment would result in greater pressure on the “media, politicians and civil society,” intimidating them and preventing them from carrying out their duties.
“The legislations being done by this government are apparently aimed at suppressing the voices of media and opposition,” tweeted vice-president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif.
The joint action committee comprising all major media bodies, in a joint statement Sunday, rejected the “draconian amendments” to the law and said any attempt to curb freedom of expression would be challenged in court.
Ahsan Bhoon, president of Supreme Court Bar Association, criticized the manner of bringing about the amendment through an ordinance instead of passing it through the parliament.
“Amending a law through an ordinance is unconstitutional and is an attack on freedom of press and expression,” Ahsan told EFE.
Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem, while defending the amendment, said the new law gives everyone the right to file a complaint against online defamation.
He said the move is only aimed at bringing about media reforms, given the prevalence of disinformation leading to defamation of many people, including a former chief justice of Pakistan and the family of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Naseem further claimed the law would serve to “curb fake news,” and that no one would be exempt from the law, including the prime minister.
“There’s no immunity to anyone as this law is applicable to all,” he said.
Under this law, the trial court has to wrap up defamation cases within six months, failing which it would have to justify the delay before the relevant high court.
PECA was passed in 2016 when the Pakistan Muslim League-N was in power amid strong protests by the opposition, which then included the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. EFE