• MQM-P terms move a ‘kind of concession’
• Opposition parties condemn ‘attempt to gag dissent’
• Media, journalist bodies plan legal challenge, protest drive against amendment
ISLAMABAD: The government’s renewed effort to regulate social media and change the election laws through presidential ordinances on Sunday received widespread criticism from opposition parties as well as various media and journalists’ bodies, which termed it another “blatant” move of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to place fetters on the fundamental rights of the citizens and stifle the freedom of speech and dissenting voices.
The media and journalist bodies announced they would not only take legal action against what they believed the latest government move aimed at curbing media’s independence but also launch a protest movement against it.
Even the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), an ally of the PTI at the centre, came up with a strong reaction to the controversial ordinance and called it a kind of “concession by the government”. “Such laws would create problems for the government itself,” said MQM-P convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi while talking to reporters in Karachi hours after the law minister, who is also an MQM-P senator, announced the promulgation of the ordinance.
“The MQM is closely analysing the situation, but we are clear that such ordinances will not solve the problems. It’s a kind of conceding defeat and then announcing it publicly,” said Dr Siddiqui, who had served as the IT minister in the PTI government before the portfolio was given to another MQM-P lawmaker, Aminul Haq.
Soon the PTI itself would become a victim of these new laws, said vice-president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz through her official Twitter handle. “The legislations being done by this government are apparently aimed at suppressing the voices of media and opposition, but these laws are about to be used against Imran and Company. Don’t say then, you have not been told (about it),” she tweeted.
While “condemning” the ordinance, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Senate Sherry Rehman said this move had little to do with regulating fake news, but more about shutting down legitimate criticism of the government. Had this been a genuine initiative to curb fake news, the stakeholders and journalist bodies would have been taken on board, she said.
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani said the amendments to the electronic crimes law and the Election Act through ordinances amounted to denying a national debate and depriving the parliament of its constitutional right of legislation. The government had taken systematic steps to apply censor to online content, he said, adding that the new legislation placed fetters on the fundamental rights of the citizens.
In a joint statement issued from Karachi, the joint action committee of the media comprising All-Pakistan Newspapers Society, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasters Association and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors rejected the “draconian amendments” to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) and termed it “a blatant move to stifle media independence, freedom of speech and dissenting voices”.
They said any attempt to curb freedom of expression would be challenged in court. The committee would, if needed, oppose such moves with full might of its constituent bodies.
PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi, in a separate statement, expressed serious concern over the ordinance and said laws were being amended to make them more “coercive aimed at eroding these rights”. “There are already clear provisions in the constitution protecting the integrity and dignity of the judiciary and the armed forces so why the need for further coercive measures,” they said, adding that there was no need to amend Peca when courts could use existing laws to punish anyone involved in defaming any person or institution.
The PFUJ leaders vowed to launch a countrywide protest against its promulgation.
PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui while commenting on another legislation to amend the Elections Act 2017, allowing the members of the parliament, including ministers, to run the election campaigns, said the unilateral amendments were a ‘manifestation of authoritarian mindset’.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022