Pakistan High Court puts controversial ordinance on hold; critics allege government curtailing media freedom
In what comes as a setback to the Pakistan government, Islamabad High Court on Wednesday ordered the authorities not to implement a controversial section of the recently promulgated ordinance which made defamation a non-bailable offense
In what comes as a setback to the Pakistan government, Islamabad High Court on Wednesday ordered the authorities not to implement a controversial section of the recently promulgated ordinance which made defamation a non-bailable offense. Media and rights activists alleged the new law will suppress the freedom of speech and severely restrict the scope of criticism.
The High Court on Wednesday said the government cannot implement the particular section, Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Ordinance 2022, without ensuring guarantees under Article 19 of the Constitution. It also warned that officials would be held accountable if the agency violated its SOPs submitted to the court.
On Monday, the government had approved the controversial ordinance that they claimed would regulate "fake news and defamation" on social media by increasing the punishment for the crimes and making both non-bailable offenses.
The new amendments were decried by the opposition and journalists who termed it “dangerous overreach” and an attempt to suppress the freedom of speech.
Under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2022, fake news was to be punished with up to six months in prison, while defamation for up to five years in prison as punishment. Both offenses were to be non-bailable.
Journalist associations were boycotting press conferences by the government’s IT ministry. Aminul Haque, Federal Minister for Information Technology, also expressed concerns over the new amendments. He urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to relook into the concerns raised by media and activists.
The controversial amendment is being seen as another attempt, pushed by the country’s powerful military, to curtail criticism and to give legal cover to growing censorship. The military, over the last several months, has increasingly come under attack, though indirectly, from the leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an umbrella organization of opposition parties.