• Vows no immunity for public office holder under the amended law
• Says persons other than aggrieved party can also file defamation case
KARACHI: The federal government while announcing the promulgation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Act Ordinance 2022 on Sunday declared that imprisonment against defamation had been enhanced from three years to five, and pledged that no one, not even the prime minister, would be exempt from the law’s applicability.
Calling it the “law to curb fake news”, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem brushed aside the impression that the amended ordinance would target freedom of media and said it was only meant to bring about reforms in the media, where disinformation had badly damaged the social norms and defamed many, including judges of the apex court.
The amended ordinance, he added, allowed anyone from the public to become a complainant against defamation of any public office holder.
“Now under the Peca ordinance, the penalty has been enhanced from three years to five years and now it has become cognisable and non-bailable offence,” he said while addressing a press conference at his Karachi residence.
“Under this ordinance, anyone can become a complainant including the public at large. So it’s not necessary that anyone who’s being targeted [for defamation] comes forward and becomes a complainant. For example, there’s a Supreme Court judge and only because he would not come forward [as a complainant] so others feel free to propagate fake news against him. I am not talking about genuine journalists but about those who want to create panic in the country and destabilise Pakistan.” In this regard, he referred to the Indian network found behind widespread disinformation campaigns against Pakistan.
Under the amended ordinance, the minister said, it was not necessary that the aggrieved person lodged a complaint, as it allowed anyone to approach a relevant authority with a complaint. “The case, however, has to be wrapped up within six months under the law. And if the relevant court fails to meet the deadline, it has to justify the delay before the relevant high court,” he added.
Asked about any immunity enjoyed by public office holders, including the premier, against the law, the law minister categorically said anyone who defied set rules would face the consequences. “There’s no immunity to anyone as this law is applicable to all,” he said.
In response to another question, the minister referred to a series of ‘fake news’ about former chief justice, Prime Minister Imran Khan, his family and key public office holders, calling them ‘attempts to defame the individuals and destabilise the country’. “For example how abusive language was used for our [former] chief justice Gulzar Ahmed,” he remarked. “Now fake information is being spread against our first lady and Prime Minister Imran Khan that she has left home. They are going to get divorced,” he said while justifying the reason for allowing anyone to sue that person for defamation.
Peca was passed by the National Assembly in 2016 during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government amid the opposition protest.
Barrister Naseem called it a wrong impression that the amended law negated the spirit of Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution, which offered freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He argued that the amended Peca ordinance addressed the challenge of ‘only fake news’.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022
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