PPP Senator Sherry Rehman on Sunday slammed the government for cancelling a scheduled session of the National Assembly without an official announcement and planning to promulgate two ordinances regarding election campaigning and social media.

A session of the National Assembly was scheduled for February 18 (Friday) only to be cancelled by President Dr Arif Alvi. The opposition had criticised the postponement as a move to stop PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif from avoiding his indictment in an alleged corruption case while a source had told Dawn the session was shelved since the government wanted to promulgate some ordinances.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn on Saturday the government was set to promulgate an ordinance declaring defamation of people and institutions on social media a cognisable offence.

He said the drafts of the proposed legislation, including an amendment to the Elections Act 2017 allowing members of the parliament to take part in election campaigns, had already been circulated among the federal cabinet members for approval, adding that the two laws would be enforced through the promulgation of presidential ordinances.

The PTI government, which has promulgated over 70 ordinances since August 2018, has been facing strong criticism for heavily relying on ordinances for legislation.

Senator Rehman added to that criticism today, saying that the ordinance regarding campaigning would allow government ministers "unprecedented ability to misuse state resources". She said it showed how "far gone" the government was in its "fear of the people".

She described the social media laws as "sweeping and draconian" in scope which would be used to further clamp down on dissent.

"Make no mistake, this is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predations; quite the opposite," she said.

The changes regarding social media come in the wake of an incident earlier this month that saw a TV programme panel question Prime Minister Imran Khan's decision to award Communications Minister Murad Saeed the first place among the 10 best performing federal ministries at a ceremony. The panel had made several critical and disparaging remarks about the federal minister, insinuating with innuendoes that some 'other factors' were behind the award than his ministry's performance.

The programme had attracted a flurry of criticism from government officials and NewsOne was reportedly taken off air by cable networks. The Pakistan Elec­tronic Media Regulatory Auth­ority had also issued a show-cause notice to the channel for airing "unethical" remarks about a federal minister.

Saeed had also registered a first information report (FIR) against one of the panellists, media personality Mohsin Jamil Baig. The FIR, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said Baig had "assassinated" Saeed's character by using "immoral and abusive language" in a talk show. It said Baig had related a "baseless story with derogatory remarks" which was subsequently shared on social media and had "shattered" the federal minister's image in public.

Subsequently, the Federal Investigation Agency had raided Baig's Islamabad residence on Wednesday and arrested him after he allegedly shot at and roughed up members of the raiding team.

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