Prevention of Electronic Crimes Amendment (PECA) Ordinance 2022 was promulgated by President Arif Alvi on Sunday. The following changes have been made in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) 2016:
-The definition of a “person” has been broadened and it now includes any company, association, institution, organisation, authority, or any other.
-Anyone found guilty will now be snatched to Fiver years jail term instead of three years.
-As per the new law, the new gives power to FIA to arrest anyone over a complaint without an FIR or court orders.
– Anyone can be arrested on non-bailable warrant.
The Current reached out to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry to take his comment on the matter. The minister, while talking exclusively to The Current, said, “A person who forwards fake news over WhatsApp can be fined and go to jail under the new law.”
Legal expert Reema Omar took to Twitter and said that Pakistan has made the already existing criminal defamation law more “oppressive”.
Nighat Dad, while talking to The Current, termed the propagation of Ordinance “unconstitutional” in a sense that you have to fullfuil a citeria under which an Ordinance can be propagated.
“Instead of repealing Section 20, which has been used and weaponised against journalists and survivors of sexual harassment, women are facing charges under the same section. The government has actually strengthened it through this Ordinance, without any inclusive process,” said Nighat.
She added that the entire exercise is pretty “unsatisfactory”. Nighat Dad said that it seems that Ordinance is basically promulgated to curb online dissent.
Nighat added that across the world, western democracies are getting rid of criminal defamation laws but here they have added institutions, organisations, and companies who can now use this particular section if they feel that people are harming their reputation. “They can use it against them.”
Journalist Farieha Aziz, while talking to The Current, said that the law is extremely dangerous. She added that vague terms like “harm to reputation” and “false information” in section 20 were criticised since its inception, however the amendments to the law have made it more dangerous by converting into a cognizable and non-bailable offence, allowing third parties, including organisations and government departments, to become complainants.
While talking about the Opposition’s criticism, Aziz said that The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) 2016 was passed under PM-LN’s regime, and PTI opposed the act at the time.
Journalist Ramsha Jahangir raised the same question regarding the vagueness of the law. “The law or the rules don’t specify what morality is. With TikTok, we saw how PTA arbitrarily decided what’s in line with cultural and moral trends. The vague phrasing in PECA gives authorities the power to interpret the content as they deem.” She continued by questioning, “Fake news or disinformation is defined by the intent to harm or mislead. How does the government identify intent?”
Digital rights activist Usama Khilji also expressed his concern over the usage of vague terms in the law.
“Cultural and moral trends are very vague subjects, especially for a diverse country like Pakistan, and this leaves a lot of room for abuse of this law at the hands of the state,” he said.
“The Constitution, and the malicious intent of the government is obvious as the amendment hasn’t even been debated in parliament but introduced as an Ordinance, especially when the Islamabad High Court has been calling for reform of Section 20, which criminalises defamation against international standards of human rights,” he added.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has rejected the Ordinance.
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