ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights has requested the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) to give suggestions to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 to pre-empt misuse of the law.
The request was made on Monday after the committee heard a journalist, Shahzeb Jillani, who recounted his ordeal after registration of a case by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over a tweet.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are mother of all human rights. I apologise on behalf of all institutions which violated your rights and we appreciate the court for quashing the FIR,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, chairperson of the standing committee, said after hearing the journalist.
Earlier, Mr Jillani said he had been a journalist for the last 25 years and had returned to Pakistan a few years ago. He said an FIR was registered against him after he went to Thar to file a report about the coal project.
“As most of the electronic media and newspapers have been silenced, sometimes I use social media to express my views. I had tweeted that even Mohammad Khan Junejo (who served as prime minister from 1985 to 1988) had the courage to resist.
‘‘So initially efforts were made to lodge a complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, but later a case was registered under Peca on charges of cyber terrorism, hate speech and defamation,” he said.
He claimed that a plan was made to arrest him just after registration of a case, but it could not be carried out as he was in Thar. Later he managed to get bail from the court.
“During the hearing, the complainant failed to prove cyber terrorism and hate speech due to which they were dropped. When a hearing started regarding defamation, the court quashed the FIR as there was no proof,” Shahzeb Jillani said.
“People whom I knew for long turned their backs on me. But on the other hand, some others like poet Haris Khaleeq and rights activist Fareeha Aziz came forward to support me,” he added.
Fareeha Aziz, co-founder of Research and Advocacy Group Bolo Bhi, said civil society had expressed reservations over the Peca bill while it was being discussed in the parliamentary committee.
She suggested making the FIA accountable for arrests made in cases registered under Peca.
Shireen Mazari, the federal Minister for Human Rights, said the European Union’s experts had examined the law and expressed their satisfaction. However, she agreed with the speakers who said the law had its flaws.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the committee would review the law in consultation with the Ministry of Human Rights. He also sought comments from the NCHR for reviewing the law.
During a discussion on the issue of missing persons, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said “people like Rao Anwar” were making opponents of the government disappear without trace.
One of the members quipped he (Mr Bilawal) should recall who had said “Rao Anwar is a brave child” — an allusion to Asif Zardari’s remarks about the retired police officer.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said a clarification was issued over the statement, but others who “owned him” (Mr Anwar) had not clarified at all. He said the FIA chief would be asked to attend the next meeting and explain Shahzeb Jillani’s case.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019