March 25, 2022 — Islamabad High Court has raised the question regarding the president’s authority in the PECA Amendment Ordinance case. In a hearing on Friday, the Court gave the federal government a final chance to satisfy it regarding whether the president had the authority to pass such an ordinance. Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the misuse of social media platforms is only seen from the political parties themselves, while FIA is busy surveilling journalists in the country.
Additional Attorney General Qasim Wudood and Deputy Attorney General Tayyab Shah were also present in the courtroom during the hearing on petitions filed by various parties including Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and former Senator Farhatullah Babar. Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that a fundamental disagreement on the PECA Amendment Ordinance is that it prima facie is in violation of Article 89 of the Constitution of Pakistan that grants president the authority to sign an ordinance in an event of emergency. The government says that the PECA Ordinance is signed to discourage the culture of slander, but we already have a law for that.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that a public office holder is supposed to be presenting themselves in front of the public for accountability, so why are they scared of social media? He added that the FIA is only busy keeping an eye on the journalists online. The Court also asked that the Ordinance also talks about the disrespect of institutions, so how could institutions be disrespected? The Additional Attorney General responded that it is important to protect the reputation of some institutions in a society, to which the Chief Justice asked, “which institutions?” The Attorney General responded that every institution’s reputation needs to be protected, including the respected judges. Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that if all of this is happening for the judiciary then know that the judiciary is not concerned about the criticism at all.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah further remarked that it apparently looks like that the President has misused the authority of signing the Ordinance in this case, only to stifle political disagreements and discussion on the internet. Social media is being misused by no one but only by the political parties themselves. Lawyer Munir A. Malik, who is representing the PFUJ in the court, had rightly said that the only way to curb fake news is by mainstreaming the truth. Finland and Scandinavian countries are top on the list with regards to freedom of expression, and nobody slanders anyone there because the political leadership has adopted the highest ethical standards for themselves.
The Court has granted a last chance to the federal government to satisfy it regarding the president’s authority to sign PECA Ordinance in the next hearing on March 30, 2022.