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EDITORIAL: The Peca Amendment Bill 2022 didn’t take long to run into a wall. First Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah forbade the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from making any further arrests under Section 20 of said Act and then, when both the FIA cybercrime wing director and the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) were unable to back it to the court’s satisfaction, he dubbed it a “draconian law” in light of the constitution. Surely, while the government would very much have factored in the opposition as well as the press going into a frenzy over it, and perhaps even going to court, it could not have expected such a strong legal rebuttal; at least not so soon.

But when it manipulated proceedings of the house and bulldozed the amendment bill through a presidential ordinance just when the IHC was already deliberating upon the legality of Section 20, what did it really expect?

There’s a reason that civil society, as a whole, has taken such a strong, and immediate, dislike to what the government has very cleverly tried to do. CJ Minallah even felt the need to echo the lament of the counsel representing the petitioner that many sovereign states had decriminalised defamation; for example Zimbabwe, Congo and Uganda.

It’s also come to light that the government had not only not consulted any of its allies before going ahead with the amendment, as usual, but it hadn’t even taken everybody inside the party on board. That’s why coalition partners are questioning it, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) visibly distancing itself from it, and most Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) spokespersons have no option but to get into a fight when questioned about it on primetime TV.

PTI seems to have forgotten that it once shared the widespread distaste for Peca when Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) enforced it, to the point of calling it a “fascist tactic”.

This bill, then, has done more than just cause a stir about defamation. It has exposed an authoritarian streak in the ruling party and given the press much to think about. Someone should also answer the question of just what possessed the government to opt for such a tactic except that it simply cannot deal with any sort of criticism and it is getting desperate as the electoral cycle is drawing to a close.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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