LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has directed the federal government to introduce necessary amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) in order to empower the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block information systems or social media websites if service providers do not remove blasphemous content on them.

The court also directed the government to incorporate punishments in Section 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, pertaining to blasphemy, in Section 9 of the PECA which lists punishments for offences relating to terrorism, proscribed organisations, etc.

“A bill [must] be tabled before the Parliament for deliberations and decision about [an] amendment in Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 to authorise the PTA to block information systems in case service providers failed to remove blasphemous content,” says the detailed verdict issued by the court on Monday.

The verdict was handed down by Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan on a petition demanding action against people involved in uploading blasphemous material on Facebook and other social media websites.

The court directed the government to frame rules under the PECA, which though required, have not been framed as yet. It said that a cell in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be created to keep Islamic countries abreast of the efforts and steps taken by the Pakistan government on the matter of blasphemous material available on social media websites.

It said that the government must take all necessary measures to enhance the technical expertise and equipment available to the PTA and the Federal Investigating Agency, which would investigate such matters.

The detailed verdict makes it clear that if the authorities were unable to filter out blasphemous content, as required under law, all such accounts and even the information systems would be blocked at once.

In this case, the PTA director general assured the court that if, within a period of two months, decisive steps were not taken by the relevant information system providers/administrators, “as a last and final resort, the authority would block all such sites at once without any space”.

Justice Khan observed that the objectionable material in question (also brought before the court) was inflammatory enough to create wide-scale public unrest and outrage amongst the Muslim majority of the Islamic ideological state.

“When an act is declared to be an offence, it is the responsibility of the state to adopt all legal measures, firstly to prevent such crimes and secondly, if the said offence is committed then bring the culprits to book, put them before the court for an ultimate decision,” the judge observed.

The judge also observed: “We also have a history, that whenever such unholy attempts were made, it worked as an ignition for the whole of our society and whenever the state failed to respond quickly, the antagonists responded befittingly by the masses, at times by the individuals.”

He ruled that the term “right of expression” could not be stretched to the extent that it be used as a tool to defy the religious thoughts or sacred personalities of one’s religion. “In short, freedom of speech and information and restrictions imposed there-against, could be explained in [the] sentence ‘liberty of one ends where the nose of other starts’,” the judge said.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017

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