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IHC prohibits govt from arresting people under PECA ordinance


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday prohibited the government from making arrests under Section 20 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Act ordinance 2022.

President Dr Arif Alvi had promulgated an ordinance on February 20 to amend the PECA, 2016, making online defamation a non-bailable, cognisable offence and giving more power to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Under the amended laws, the jail term for the demotion was also increased from three years to five years.
However, the recent arrest of journalist Mohsin Baig at FIA’s hands drove the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) reach out to the IHC against the PECA ordinance 2022.
Moved by PFUJ’s petition, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued a restraining order to the government against the arrest of people under the said ordinance.
During today’s hearing, the counsel representing PFUJ, Adil Aziz Qazi, argued that the government deliberately postponed a scheduled session of the National Assembly (NA) on February 18 to introduce this ordinance.
“What were the circumstances under which the government issued the ordinance in haste?” questioned the lawyer.
At this, the judge remarked that the FIA had already submitted SOPs relating to raids and arrests. The court ordered that nobody should be arrested on any complaint registered under Section 20.
“[The] interior ministry secretary and FIA director-general will be responsible if the SOPs are not followed,” warned Justice Minallah.
“There should be no defamation law for public representatives”, remarked Justice Minallah.
Meanwhile, the court sought assistance from the attorney general of Pakistan in the case and adjourned the hearing till February 24.
Amendments to Section 20 of PECA law:
b- In sub-section (1) the world “natural” shall be omitted and for the world “three” the word “five” shall be substituted (2) and for colon at the end, a full stop shall be substituted and thereafter the proviso shall be omitted.
c- After sub-section (1), amended as aforesaid, the following new sub-section shall be inserted, namely-
“(1A) The informant or complainant in respect of offence under sub-section (1) shall be an aggrieved person, his authorized representative, or his guardian, where such person is a minor or a member of the public in respect of a public figure or a holder of public office,” andd- In sub-section (2), for the expression “Any aggrieved person or his guardian, where such person is minor,” the expression “Any aggrieved person, his authorised representative, or his guardian, where such person is minor, or a member of the public in respect of a public figure or holder of public office” shall be substituted.
Here, three years imprisonment for defamation has been increased to five years and the section about PEMRA has been removed. While two new paras have been added to the act.
The journalists bodies, human rights organisations, bar councils and political parties have raised serious objections over the government’s move and have termed it an attempt to stifle media.
Media organisations, lawyer bodies and political parties on Tuesday strongly reacted to promulgation of the ordinance amending the PECA 2016, termed it a draconian law and challenged it in the Islamabad and Lahore high courts.
Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan said that PECA Ordinance would be a draconian law only if it was implemented as it is. “The PECA (amendment) ordinance will be draconian if it will come into force as it is,” he said adding “This law will be regulated for enforcement.”
Separately, talking to the media on the Federal Shariat Court premises, he said the amendments to PECA law would not be retroactive. “The amendments will not come into effect retroactively,” he clarified. He said PECA law would to applicable only in serious-nature cases. “It will not be applicable to every case. It may be used for only one in 5,000 cases,” he claimed.
“This ordinance has not been applied in legal action against Mohsin Baig, neither it will be,” he added. “The high court is trying to make the amendment toothless,” the AG said adding that “I will assist the court fully in this regard.”
The IHC on Monday had issued a show-cause notice to the FIA’s cybercrime wing over Baig’s arrest, terming it “misuse of power”.
The FIA had raided the journalist’s house last Wednesday in the federal capital, along with the police, and took him into custody on a complaint, containing allegations of defamation, filed by Communications and Postal Services Minister Murad Saeed.
 

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