PECA is Draconian law, says Islamabad High Court

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government face enormous domestic and foreign policy challenges. However, instead of trying to build alliances, domestic and foreign, they are going for self-inflicted goals. Recently, President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated an ordinance to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (Peca) to ensure that no one would be exempt from indulging in “fake news”.

Former Editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir in his latest column stated, “of all the hare-brained schemes to muzzle criticism of those at the helm, the PECA amendment ordinance promulgated by the president must take pride of place on the podium of own goals.” Even the Attorney General of Pakistan “indicated he had not been consulted.”

The government is now under immense pressure as the Islamabad High Court took up a petition challenging PECA that was filed by leading opposition parties – PML-N, PPP, – along with journalists’ representative bodies and former senator Farhatullah Babar. “IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah stated that prima facie, the Peca is a draconian law. He noted that political parties should not have invoked the jurisdiction of the court since they could decide such issues within parliament.”

As Nasir points out that the ordinance was “penned by the man who resigned as minister to plead the cause of the army chief’s extension in the Supreme Court in the final days of chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s tenure.” According to Nasir, Law Minister Farogh Naseem’s “political judgement leaves much to be desired as our example illustrates, so much so that the party whose ticket put him in the Upper House has been ambivalent in owning him.”

Nasir notes that when the PML-N first introduced the PECA legislation there were vociferous protests from civil society but these “protestations fell on deaf years because the PML-N was so intoxicated on power.”

Nasir argues that “one would have thought that under pressure, the PTI would be reaching out to possible allies in the media and beyond, even invoking the civilian supremacy argument to win over friends. But no. It decides to alienate whatever support it may have had among democratic-minded Pakistanis, influencers among them.”

In conclusion Nasir states, “Even when the going was good, such an amendment would have kicked up opposition as it clashes with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, just as the NAB law does, amid fears that it would be used to stifle dissent just as the NAB law has been used to victimise opponents and carry out political engineering.”

Author: Ali Chughtai

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