Pakistan’s new media law has sparked heated debate

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The head of the Association of Journalists noted that this amendment is aimed solely at curbing anti-government criticism and opposition voices.

[Islamabad] Pakistan has approved a fundamental change in its constitutional book, saying it aims to prevent “fake news” by regulating posts on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

President Arif Alvi signed a cabinet order amending the Cybercrime Prevention Act to allow citizens to file complaints about “defamatory” posts on social media. ۔

According to the decree, defamation on the Internet is recognized as a non-bailable offense and the punishment for defamation is increased from three to five years.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court challenging the amendment. The court was scheduled to hear the petition on Wednesday.

Federal Law Minister Muhammad Foru Naseem while briefing reporters in Islamabad on Sunday said, “The amendments to the Cybercrime Act have been made under the Cybercrime (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

“According to the resolution, the definition of ‘person’ has been expanded to include any company, association, institution, organization, authority or any other person. He was found guilty of causing harm to Waqar and will now be sentenced to p’ seven years instead of three,” Nasim added.

The ordinance also states that the complainant must be the aggrieved person, his legal representative or guardian if such person is a minor or a member of the public against a public figure or official,” he said.

“The purpose of the latest order is only to thwart the intentions of the enemies of the country by making it a criminal offense under the state constitution to stop the spread of fake news,” he said.

During a press briefing, Naseem gave the example of Pakistan’s former president Gulzar Ahmed and said that false news based on immoral language was being spread against him [about his personal life].

Recently, there was fake news on social media that the First Lady [Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi Khan] has left the house. Some people who are not actually journalists pretend to be journalists,” the minister added.

Nasim emphasized that “the purpose of the latest resolution is not to target working journalists who are sincere in their profession and are not involved in spreading fake news.”

“This is an alarming situation for which the entire incompetent ruling class is responsible,” Pakistan Federation of Journalists President Muhammad Nawaz Raza told The Media Line.

He said that in today’s age of social media, instead of reforming existing laws to manage constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, unfortunately, these laws are being amended so that no minister is corrupt. And could not talk about incompetence and could not point to them. . Every institution must work within its limits, and when institutions overstep, they are criticized.

“Of course, the new law banning freedom of expression is a brutal move aimed solely at suppressing anti-government criticism and opposition voices that violate basic human rights,” Raza said.

Former Senate Chairman and senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Nayyar Hussain Bukhari told The Media Line that the Imran Khan-led government is incompetent and does not want anyone to speak. Restrictions on press freedom are unprecedented.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) National Assembly Member Mian Javed Latif told The Media Line: The dictatorial decree is against the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

“Fundamental human rights are the hallmark of every civilized and democratic society,” Siddiq Al-Farooq, a former spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and a senior party leader, told The Media Line.

He said that democratically minded governments, institutions and political parties cannot even think of violating basic human rights.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan considers himself superhuman. If Khan breaks the law by remaining in the opposition, that’s fine, but if he breaks the law by coming to power, that’s still fine, Farooq added.

The efficiency of the Khan-led government is below zero. For the first time in the country’s history, such inflation burdens people.

“Every state institution, including governance, economy and foreign policy, has been destroyed, so such amendments to the law have been made to avoid criticism, embarrassment and accountability to the public,” Farooq said.

Personal freedom is crucified to hide its failures. These changes to the law are a reflection of dictatorial behavior,” he added.

“These amendments are against the constitutional right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the state constitution,” Farooq said. “We reject this and the entire opposition will oppose it, both inside and outside parliament.”

Human rights organizations sharply criticized the new law.

Iqbal Khattak, executive director of Islamabad’s Freedom Network, told The Media Line: “People have a fundamental right to criticize and question the performance of their elected legislatures and hold them accountable, but the new law by this government has stopped that. This fundamental right of the people must be abolished.” .

“This amendment comes at a time when the country is due to hold general elections next year.” The common man no longer has access to television, he cannot write in the newspaper, so social media is the only medium that the common man has access to where he can express his feelings and difficulties.

He said the amended law would deprive ordinary citizens of Pakistan of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Responding to a question, he said, “The government’s claim that it wants to stop the spread of fake news through this legislation is completely wrong,” Khattak said. “If the government really wants to stop fake news, it should eliminate the Ministry of Information at the federal and provincial levels, which has become a ‘fake news university.’

The Media Stakeholders Joint Action Committee (JAC) on Monday walked out of a meeting with the Ministry of Information in Islamabad in protest against the government’s policy.

The JAC consists of representatives from All Pakistan Newspaper Association, Pakistan Newspaper Editors Council, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors.

The committee announced that all negotiations with the government would be suspended until “the sweeping changes to the Cybercrime Prevention Act are withdrawn.”

“There are several instances where the Ministry of Information has been involved in distorting freedom of expression and limiting the right of journalists to report,” the JAC said in a statement. “Orders are passed, the impression is created that the media community is being consulted.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Khan on Monday defended the new amendment.

During a meeting with top party leaders, Khan said, “This ordinance will deter people from destroying the honor and dignity of others.

The Prime Minister also noted that previously such laws were not adopted consciously, which destroyed the morale of our youth.

In 2021, Pakistan was ranked 145 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by Reporters Without Borders, a France-based international non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the right to freedom of information. ۔

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