February 23, 2022 – In a hearing on Wednesday, the Islamabad High Court stopped the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from making any arrests under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.
The directive came during a hearing of the petition filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) challenging the new amendments in PECA through a presidential ordinance over the last weekend. The amendments broaden the scope of defamation from previously just being individuals to organisations and groups – both public and private bodies, leading to silencing of criticism against government departments and authorities. The new amendment increases the penalty from three years to five years, and makes the offence non-bailable.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in the hearing today, remarked that the FIA has already said in its SOPs that no one will be arrested under section 20 of PECA, but if that happens now, DG FIA and minister of interior will be held responsible. The Court has also summoned Attorney General in February 24 hearing on the request of PFUJ.
Representing PFUJ, senior lawyer Adil Aziz Qazi presented before the Court and maintained that senate session conclude on February 17, and a national assembly session was scheduled on February 18 which was cancelled so the government could bring the ordinance. Apart from an amendment in PECA, another new section has been added in the Act. Qazi informed the Court that the penalty under section 20 has been increased from three years to five years in the Ordinance. The Court has issued notice to the Attorney General regarding this and has asked for a response tomorrow in a hearing set before the same Court regarding journalist Mohsin Baig’s complaint against his arrest by the FIA cybercrime wing, in which the Court has already summoned the Attorney General to assist the Court regarding why section 21(d) of PECA should not be suspended.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Athar Minallah also remarked that defamation is being decriminalised around the world, including Zimbabwe and Uganda. He said that defamation law should not even exist for a public figure or public official, and they should not be scared of criticism either.
The case will proceed in the hearing on February 24.