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Pakistan court halts govt from making arrests under media law

Date:

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday forbid the government from making arrests under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Amended ordinance (PECA) 2022.

President Dr Arif Alvi had promulgated an ordinance on February 20 to amend the PECA, 2016, making online defamation a non-bailable, cognisable offence and giving more power to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Under the amended laws, the jail term for the demotion was also increased from three years to five years.

However, the recent arrest of journalist Mohsin Baig at FIA’s hands drove the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) reach out to the IHC against the PECA ordinance 2022.

Moved by PFUJ’s petition, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued a restraining order to the government against the arrest of people under the said ordinance.

During today’s hearing, the counsel representing PFUJ, Adil Aziz Qazi, argued that the government deliberately postponed a scheduled session of the National Assembly (NA) on February 18 to introduce this ordinance.

“What were the circumstances under which the government issued the ordinance in haste?” questioned the lawyer.

At this, the judge remarked that the FIA had already submitted SOPs relating to raids and arrests. The court ordered that nobody should be arrested on any complaint registered under Section 20.

“[The] interior ministry secretary and FIA director-general will be responsible if the SOPs are not followed,” warned Justice Minallah.

“There should be no defamation law for public representatives”, remarked Justice Minallah.

Meanwhile, the court sought assistance from the attorney general of Pakistan in the case and adjourned the hearing till February 24.

b- In sub-section (1) the world “natural” shall be omitted and for the world “three” the word “five” shall be substituted (2) and for colon at the end, a full stop shall be substituted and thereafter the proviso shall be omitted.

c- After sub-section (1), amended as aforesaid, the following new sub-section shall be inserted, namely-

“(1A) The informant or complainant in respect of offence under sub-section (1) shall be an aggrieved person, his authorized representative, or his guardian, where such person is a minor or a member of the public in respect of a public figure or a holder of public office,” and

d- In sub-section (2), for the expression “Any aggrieved person or his guardian, where such person is minor,” the expression “Any aggrieved person, his authorised representative, or his guardian, where such person is minor, or a member of the public in respect of a public figure or holder of public office” shall be substituted.

Here, three years imprisonment for defamation has been increased to five years and the section about PEMRA has been removed. While two new paras have been added to the act.

The journalist bodies, human rights organisations, bar councils and political parties have raised serious objections over the government’s move and have termed it an attempt to stifle media.

IHC terms Mohsin Baig’s arrest ‘FIA’s misuse of power’

The IHC on Monday had issued a show-cause notice to the FIA’s cybercrime wing over Baig’s arrest, terming it “misuse of power”.

The FIA had raided the journalist’s house last Wednesday in the federal capital, along with the police, and took him into custody on a complaint, containing allegations of defamation, filed by Communications and Postal Services Minister Murad Saeed.

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