The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s effort to regulate social media and change the election laws through presidential ordinances has been termed another “blatant” move to restrain the fundamental rights of the citizens and stifle the freedom of speech and defiant voices, the Dawn newspaper reported.
Condemning the law, the opposition parties in Pakistan- Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said that the legislation through ordinance amounts to denying a national debate and depriving Parliament of its constitutional right of legislation, reported the News International.
Both the opposition parties, that have vowed to challenge the ordinance in Parliament, slammed the Imran Khan government over the amendment to social media laws, that they suspect would only be used against the opposition and media.
Reacting to the promulgation of Presidential ordinance amendments in the PECA 2016 and the Elections Act 2017, PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeted: “Whatever laws this government is making are meant to silence the media and the opposition, but these laws are going to be used against Imran & Company. Don’t say that you hadn’t been warned.”
Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani also condemned the amendments to the electronic crimes law. “Since 2018, the government has taken systematic steps to apply censor to online content through the ‘Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020’ and the ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020’. Such Rules were opposed by journalists and digital rights groups,” The News International quoted him as saying.
“The president should not have signed the ordinances, as under Article 50, Constitution, 1973, he is a part of Parliament, here Parliament is being denied the right to legislate and fundamental rights are being curtailed outside of Parliament,” he added, as per the Pakistan newspaper.
PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said that this is not about regulating fake news, but shutting down criticism. She added that the journalists are harassed and tortured in Pakistan making it a hostile country for defiance. “The PTI has created a republic of fear with its draconian laws and suppression of democratic rights and freedom of expression,” the media outlet quoted her as saying.
The media Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) has outrightly rejected the draconian amendments to the PECA, saying it is a flagrant move to undermine the freedom of the press, speech and defiant voices in the country.”
“All media bodies would take any and all legal actions to challenge the attempt to curb media’s independence and its right to raise voice against any steps to curb freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Constitution,” the Pakistani publication reported quoting JAC statement issued on Sunday.
Under the ordinance, the definition of a “person” has been broadened to include any company, association, institution, organization, authority, or any other. Furthermore, anyone found guilty of attacking a person’s “identity” will now be sentenced to five years instead of three years.
Another amendment to the country’s election laws allows any person holding any office under the constitution or any other law, to visit or address public meetings in “any area or constituency”.