Pakistan cybercrime law a setback for Freedom of Expression12 Aug, 2016
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemn the passing of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2016 on Thursday, August 11. The IFJ urges the Pakistan parliament to reconsider the Bill to make it acceptable to all ensuring the international standards.
The National Assembly, the lower house of the Pakistan parliament, officially approved the PCEB on August 11. The Bill was originally passed by the Assembly on April 13, however when it was sent to the Senate, parliament’s Upper House, it was knocked back. More than 50 amendments were made to the PCEB and it was unanimously adopted by the Senate on July 30. Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain will now sign the PCEB in law.
The PCEB has received widespread criticism from opposition parties, stakeholders and media groups for the provisions which many believe will curb freedom of expression in Pakistan. Particular criticisms focused on the vague wording in the bill, which is open for misinterpretation, restrictions on freedom of expression online and access to information. Criticisms also focused on the sweeping powers granted to the state authority to conduct surveillance on citizens. Many argued that the provisions of the law could specifically be misused to target journalists’ sources and whistleblowers.
The PFUJ said: “The Bill is against the freedom of speech and expression of the media and against the privacy rights of the common citizen. Especially, the sharing of personal data with the agencies would create more safety problems for the media workers. It also violates the rights given by the UN charter. The PFUJ will continue to oppose it.”
In a statement, Bytes for All, Pakistan, said: “The enactment of this law criminalizes a wide range of speech online, including legitimate political and religious expression, with harsh prison sentences and fines… Already vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society – religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, political dissidents and journalists – who have had to resort the Internet as the only space where they can share ideas freely, will now be at even further risk whenever they express themselves online.”
The IFJ said: “The approval of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill despite widespread criticism of it being restrictive to the freedom of expression online is a setback for Pakistan’s democracy. The law leaves spaces for misinterpretations that could be misused to target opposition voices or journalists is the major concern along with state authority’s power to surveillance on citizens. The law could be used to silence opposition voices thus weakening the democracy, public sphere and the media.”