- New ordinance makes 'fake news' a non-bailable offence with jail term going up to five years, says federal law minister Dr Farogh Naseem
President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated an ordinance on Sunday to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 as Federal Law Minister Barrister Dr Farogh Naseem said that the government has amended it to penalise 'fake news' as a cognisable and non-bailable offence, Aaj News reported.
President Alvi also signed the ordinance making changes in the Elections Act, 2017.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Naseem added that the jail term for spreading 'fake news' has been increased from three to five years, as “lies cannot be allowed to become the foundation of a society”.
The ordinance also criminalises defamation against civil and military institutions, as well as public office-holders, and allows complainants to seek defamation and criminal proceedings against the accused, he said.
Naseem said that judges will be bound to decide on fake news cases within six months.
“In case the judge fails to adjudicate in the given time, a letter will be sent to the respective high court chief justice to seek an explanation from the judge,” he added.
The minister also noted few elements in the society spread fake news to create panic among the masses. He said that baseless and fabricated news are spread at the behest of foreign powers, particularly India, in a bid to create instability in Pakistan.
To a question, Naseem said that the amendments in the PECA law or Article 19 of the Constitution were not unconstitutional as the only purpose of this law was to curb fake news.
Election law amended
The cabinet had earlier approved on Sunday an amendment in the Election Act 2017 to allow parliamentarians to take part in election campaigns
The development means that MNAs and MPAs will now be able to visit and address public gatherings during election campaigns, which was earlier banned under the election code of conduct.
Drafted by PM's aide on Parliamentarian Affairs Babar Awan, these bills were sent to the federal cabinet for approval on Saturday.
In a tweet, Minister for Information, Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that the two important bills relating to the ECP’s of conduct and social media have been sent to the federal cabinet for approval.
He said that the first proposal seeks permission to allow parliamentarians to run election campaigns, adding the second law, if enforced, will make social media defamation a punishable crime.
“Insulting the dignity of another person on social media will be made a punishable offence and the courts will be bound to decide the cases within a period of six months,” the information minister tweeted.
Meanwhile, opposition parties berated the government for ‘suppressing dissent’ by making defamation a punishable offence.
PPP leader Sherry Rehman, in a series of tweets, said that in its bid to shut down dissent even further, the government was using another presidential ordinance to amend cybercrime laws that would be sweeping and draconian in scope.
“Make no mistake, this is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predations; quite the opposite,” she added.