IHC strikes down PECA ordinanceAbdul Gh Lone 8 April 2022 0 COMMENTS
The decision was announced by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah in connection with the petitions filed against the PECA ordinance by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and other media bodies.
In a four-page order, CJ Minallah said the court has also declared null and void Section 20 of the PECA law. The IHC has also ordered a probe into the abuse of power by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under the PECA law and the interior secretary has been directed to submit a report in this regard within 30 days.
The cases registered under Section 20 of PECA have also been dismissed, the court said. The IHC said the government is expected to review the legislation concerning defamation as freedom of expression was one of the fundamental rights.
“Access to information and freedom to express opinions are vital for a vibrant society,” the court said, adding that attempts to undermine these rights were contrary to the democratic spirit and against the Constitution.
The interior secretary needed to launch an investigation into the conduct of FIA’s cybercrime officials over rampant abuse of power by the government agency. It said the PECA ordinance violated Article 9, Article 14, Article 19, and 19-A.
The Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) lauded the high court for its decision. CPNE President Kazim Khan said that an independent judiciary was imperative for constitutional supremacy.
In February this year, President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated the PECA ordinance, making online public defamation a cognisable and a non-bailable offence and also increasing the jail term for defaming any person or institution from three years to five years.
Before the ordinance came into effect, Section 20, which pertains to the registration of complaints against individuals by aggrieved parties over defamation, was a bailable and non-criminal offence.
There was a stream of criticism from the opposition parties, rights organisations, and civil society against the controversial legislation which termed it an attack on freedom of speech and journalism.
Read PFUJ announces ‘Black Day’ against PECA Ordinance on Feb 28
The critics had said that the move was aimed not only to control the digital space but to prevent criticism against the government and the country’s powerful institutions.
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Subsequently, the high court restrained the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from arresting anyone under Section 20 of the PECA ordinance while seeking a response from the government over the law.
As the proceedings inched forward, the ordinance, now declared void, had prompted the IHC CJ to say that the PM had been misguided about the law.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members, however, had defended PECA on multiple occasions. The PM had said that the amendments to PECA were brought because “social media was filled with filth such as child pornography”.
According to PM Imran, the content being shared on social media was causing a threat to the institution of the family. He had regretted that even he was not being spared, recalling that a few years ago a journalist had reported that his wife had left him and that he had done something illegal at his Bani Gala residence.