Two dozen journalists in Pakistan have been prosecuted (2019-21) over the past under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), states a report by the Freedom Network. November 2 marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
Most complainants against journalists charged under the Peca sought punishment rather than settlement.
Investigative Journalist Umar Cheema reported for The News that the report’s findings were based on the analysis of cases of 23 journalists and information practitioners who were either sent notices by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under Peca or charged with offenses under the same law.
The report states: “Opinions or criticism of the military and the intelligence agencies is the most frequent complaint against journalists pursued under the Peca. Criticism in general – whether against the executive or the judiciary triggered the most complaints against journalists pursued under the Peca law. The prime nature of the complaint was alleged defamation.”
The report provides evidence that Peca has emerged as the primary legal instrument to silence Pakistani journalists because it criminalises online expression.
The executive director of Freedom Network Jean Bruggeman has said that Pakistani journalists are increasingly using online spaces to share independent news and critical commentary that is suppressed on traditional media.
According to the report, Punjab has turned out to be the most dangerous region as 10 of the 23 cases were reported in the province. Federal capital Islamabad comes second when it comes to being targeted under the Peca with eight cases.
Two-third of them are private citizens whereas opinions or criticism of the military and the intelligence agencies is the most frequent complaint pursued under the Peca.
Furthermore, it found that the cases were registered against 56 per cent of journalists and informational practitioners who were involved in conflict with Peca between 2019 and 2012. Out of the individuals who were formally charged, around 70 per cent were arrested and half of them were tortured in custody.
Over a third of the freelancers were targeted as they are almost equally likely to be targeted under Peca.