• MQM’s Aminul Haque asks PM to withdraw or review controversial changes to cybercrime law
• PML-N to move IHC against ordinance

ISLAMABAD: After the controversial amendments made to the cybercrime law through a presidential ordinance were roundly criticised and assailed before the courts, the man in charge of the ministry under whose purview this law falls, has written to the prime minister to seek its withdrawal.

In a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday, Federal Minister for Information Technology Syed Aminul Haque suggested that a consultation with civil society and media should be undertaken and asked for the controversial amendment to either be withdrawn or reviewed, in light of the massive outcry coming from all stakeholders.

Mr Haque belongs to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — an ally of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the centre. He, along with fellow MQM leader and federal law minister, Dr Farogh Naseem, played a leading role in coming up with the contentious amendments to Peca.

On Sunday, when the law minister was vehemently defending the government’s amendment to Peca during a news conference in Karachi, his party’s convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had criticised the move, stating that such laws would lead to problems for the government itself.

The IT minister has written to the PM, who is currently on an official tour to Russia, despite the fact that a summary regarding the controversial ordinance was circulated among cabinet members for approval last week and was signed by the secretary of his own ministry.

“The media community across the board is deeply concerned and restless about the latest amendments to Peca promulgated through an ordinance. The announcement of the amendments has drawn widespread condemnation and ire of media bodies and the journalistic community as a whole. Their view is that the amendments were drafted without constructive consultation with the relevant stakeholders,” Mr Haque wrote in the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

Highlighting the role of the media in a democratic dispensation, he stated that it was the “fourth pillar of a democracy and each government enjoys a unique relationship with the media. It is through the media that a government is able to project its image to the public”.

“By pushing forward with these amendments without consulting the relevant stakeholders, in this case media practitioners, the government will stoke anger and resentment within the journalistic community”.

Informing the prime minister that the media representative bodies and journalists had announced to resist these amendments at every forum, he “strongly urged” Mr Khan “to pay heed to the unanimous voice of protest against consultative process with the civil society as well as the media community at the earliest”.

“It is only through dialogue and deliberation that media practitioners and the government can establish procedures to curtail fake news, and I urge you to launch this process at the earliest and withdraw/review the ordinance,” the letter concluded.

Despite repeated attempts, Mr Haque could not be reached for comments.

Registering a strong protest against what is believed to be a blatant attempt to curb freedom of expression through the controversial Peca ordinance, the representatives of media and journalist organisations on Feb 21 had walked out of a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Information, announcing that they would not hold any further engagement with the ministry until the withdrawal of the law.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also endorsed the position taken by the media representatives, announcing that the “HRCP stands in solidarity with media for freedom of expression”.

PML-N to petition IHC

In a related development, the main opposition PML-N on Wednesday announced that the party had decided to challenge the Peca ordinance before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which has already begun hearing a petition filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists against the controversial ordinance.

The petition will be jointly filed by Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar and party’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Talking to the media in Lahore, PML-N information secretary Ms Aurangzeb termed the ordinance a “draconian black law”, adding it should first be applied to Prime Minister Imran Khan for his “false statements accusing opposition leaders of corruption”.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2022

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