ISLAMABAD: In reply to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘uncharitable’ remarks against criticism of the government’s move to toughen the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) chief justice came out in defence of judicial scrutiny of the controversial presidential ordinance that criminalised defamation, hinting that the premier might have been misled by his advisers.

Meanwhile, the IHC registrar’s office put up an appeal against the acquittal of Prime Minister Imran Khan in police officer Asmatullah Junejo’s torture case for hearing before a division bench on Wednesday (today).

The prime minister, in his address to the nation on Monday, had rejected criticism of the presidential ordinance that amended Peca and empowered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to arrest an accused for defaming a public office-holder, the judiciary, other institutions of national importance and even officials of autonomous bodies. The amendment raised the punishment for defamation from two years imprisonment to five.

While civil society, journalists and the legal fraternity have challenged the presidential ordinance to the extent of Peca’s Section 20, which has been amended to enable anyone to file a complaint on behalf of a holder of public office, the judiciary, national institutions and civic agencies, the PM said in his speech that the amendment was made to tackle the “filth of child pornography and harassment of women” on social media.

“More than 94,000 cases regarding women’s harassment, fake news and pictures are pending with the FIA and of those, only 38 cases have been disposed of so far,” the prime minister observed.

Justice Minallah, while hearing a petition brought by the outgoing president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) against the Peca amendment ordinance, observed that the PM might have been misled about the law.

He pointed out that a law on defamation was already on the statute and only improvements were needed in it to ensure swift disposal of cases.

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan took a similar stance before the IHC chief justice last week, saying that the law had been amended to protect women and children.

Justice Minallah was of the view that offences like blackmailing, harassing and intimidating women and children entailed tough punishments.

In addition to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), Peca covers offences related to cyber terrorism, hate speech, electronic fraud, uploading objectionable photographs or video and child pornography.

After a preliminary hearing of the LHCBA ex-president’s petition, Chief Justice Athar Minallah adjourned it to March 10. The court will resume hearing of all identical petitions on that date.

Asmatullah torture case

In May 2018 the federal government had challenged Mr Khan’s acquittal in a case related to torture of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Asmatullah Junejo during the 2014 sit-in by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) against the government of Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Junejo was beaten up by protesters on the Constitution Avenue on his first day on the job as SSP Operations of Islamabad police.

Police had registered four cases against workers of PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) for their alleged involvement in the attack on the officer.

Shahrukh Arjumand, a judge of the Anti-Terrorism Court, acquitted PTI chief Imran Khan of charges under a section of the CrPC for want of evidence.

In its appeal against the ATC judgement, the government contended the ATC order was illegal, unlawful and arbitrary. The government further argued that the order had been passed in a “slipshod and hasty manner” and the court had not applied its judicial mind.

“The trial court has not taken into consideration the gravity of the offence, coupled with its importance,” the appeal said.

“The accused is nominated in the FIR for a specific role and incriminating evidence is available on record to connect him with commission of the offence,” according to the appeal.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2022

Opinion

A state of chaos

A state of chaos

The establishment’s increasingly intrusive role has further diminished the credibility of the political dispensation.

Editorial

Bulldozed bill
Updated 22 May, 2024

Bulldozed bill

Where once the party was championing the people and their voices, it is now devising new means to silence them.
Out of the abyss
22 May, 2024

Out of the abyss

ENFORCED disappearances remain a persistent blight on fundamental human rights in the country. Recent exchanges...
Holding Israel accountable
22 May, 2024

Holding Israel accountable

ALTHOUGH the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor wants arrest warrants to be issued for Israel’s prime...
Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...