Journalists 'victims' of new social media law

It will make FIA lethal, says expert
Feb 22, 2022

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 has become a hot debate ever since the federal government announced amendments to it. The biggest opposition came from journalist bodies as they claim to be "victims" of the new law.

On Sunday, President Arif Alvi has signed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 2016, turning it into law. It will now be presented in the Parliament for consultation.

The new law aims to curb online disinformation and hate speech. It comes after two major incidents: NewsOne controversy and the disinformation campaign against First Lady Bushra.

Immediately after it was announced, opposition parties rejected the ordinance and said it will benefit government and restrict the freedom of expression. It has decided to challenge the new law in court as well.

FIA becomes lethal

On Tuesday, the Head of SAMAA Investigation Unit, Khalif Gashkori, explained the criticism behind the new law.

He said the government has added a number of new conditions in Section 20 (offences against dignity of a natural person) of PECA 2016.

"Under the amendments, media persons and civil society members can come under attack. They are the biggest victim here because they do factual stories, criticize government and authorities, and bring the issues that matter to the public domain."

Gashkori pointed out that the government never consulted anyone before passing the new law. He recalled that when PML-N brought PECA they, too, didn't hold consultations and a reaction came against them as well.

The journalist pointed out that the new law will give FIA lethal powers citing the example of the Mohsin Baig case. "They registered an FIR against him within hours and them took action without any notices. This clearly shows FIA can use this law anyway they want to," he cautioned.

Low conviction rate

Since the promulgation of PECA, 2,70,000 complaints have been registered according to official data. As many as 30,000 inquiries have been registered in several police stations of FIA.

The conviction ratio, however, was at 2.4, which is too low, especially when 15 different courts are dealing with FIA cases.

In 2021, more than 100,000 complaints were registered, 1300 people were arrested, 1208 cases were registered but only 29 people were convicted by FIA. The complaints belonged to sensitive issues such as child pornography.

  • 420 - anti-government complaints
  • 1,470 - anti-religion and blasphemy
  • 2,570 - insulting for Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H)

Reasons behind lack of cases conviction:

  • lack of prosecution teams
  • FIA cybercrime wing was too short of staff
  • Lack of investigation officers

What does law say?

The new law, a copy of which is available with SAMAA TV, focuses on protecting state institutions, national heroes and important personalities, says Gashkori.

Under the new law, fake news has been termed a non-bailable offence with a punishment of at least five years in jail and a fine of Rs1 million. The complaint can be filed at large, while courts will be required to decide on the cases within six months.

If a trial exceeds six months, an inquiry will be initiated against the relevant high court judge and they will be questioned over the delay. “The non-provision of plausible reasons will result in disciplinary proceedings [against the judge].”

Some reports say the amendment is being introduced to stamp out propaganda against the judiciary and military.



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