Fake news, online defamation are now non-bailable offenses as Pakistan passes draconian ordinance; critics say it is muzzling of dissent
Pakistan approved a new ordinance that the government claimed will regulate "fake news and defamation" on social media by increasing the punishment for the crimes and making both non-bailable offenses in a move the opposition and journalists decried as “dangerous overreach” and an attempt to suppress the freedom of speech
Pakistan approved a new ordinance that the government claimed will regulate "fake news and defamation" on social media by increasing the punishment for the crimes and making both non-bailable offenses in a move the opposition and journalists decried as “dangerous overreach” and an attempt to suppress the freedom of speech.
Under the new laws, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2022, fake news will be punished by up to six months in prison, while defamation will have up to five years in prison as punishment. Both offenses will be non-bailable.
President Arif Alvi approved on Sunday the draconian ordinance, which also put the time maximum time limit on courts - six months from the cognizance of the crime to completion of the trial. The delay and progress during the trial shall be informed to the concerned high court, according to media reports.
The controversial amendment is being seen as another attempt, pushed by the country’s powerful military, to limit 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.
Terming the ordinance “undemocratic”, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said, “It will also inevitably be used to clamp down on dissenters and critics of the government and state institutions.”
Fearing shrinking space for the independence of media, journalists and media bodies have threatened to challenge the new ordinance in court.
“Such laws would create problems for the government itself,” Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi, convener of the MQM-P, an ally in the ruling coalition led by PTI, was quoted as saying by Dawn.
Sherry Rehman, senator for the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), said the amendment "is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predation -- quite the opposite."
The government justified the ordinance. Law Minister Faroogh Naseem said the move was a much-needed amendment of laws on cybercrime and added no one would be exempt from the effort to root out "fake news." On concern expressed from media, he said, "Media is free to criticize but there should be no fake news."