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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was informed that implementation of Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 is halted as presently there is no case under this law in any court.

A single bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday heard identical petitions challenging the recently-promulgated Prevention of Electronic Crimes (amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

In the last hearing, the Court has clubbed all the petitions filed by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), other media bodies, and journalists against the ordinance.

During the proceeding, the chief justice remarked the PECA Ordinance 2022 could be withdrawn if all stakeholders sit together. He then inquired what would happen to the cases that are being tried under the PECA ordinance.

Justifying PECA, albeit unsuccessfully

Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan said that currently, no case under the ordinance is being heard in any court. He said the federal government had stopped the implementation of the Section of the PECA Ordinance and decided to consult all the stakeholders. He submitted that he had met the PM [Imran Khan] and apprised him on the issue, adding when the premier was apprised on the issue, he himself expressed astonishment over Section 20 of the ordinance and questioned how this was allowed to happen.

The AGP said the government was ready to consult all the stakeholders regarding PECA and that a commission would be formed without whose recommendation no action will be taken.

The CJ observed that the TV programmes also come under the said section. He remarked that the media personality Mohsin Baig’s FIR was a classic case of misuse of power. “Why is this power being used only for the benefit of the public office holders?” he further questioned.

“Please inform which section was applied in Mohsin Baig’s case? [Reham Khan’s] book may have had some good things about the minister as well but the FIA assumed that something ill was written and arrested the person on the same day without inquiry. Did you analyse the whole situation before the complaint was filed?” Justice Minallah said.

The AGP further informed; “When this ordinance came into effect, we found out that this law could be misused. I raised three or four issues before the PM myself.” He stated that according to him, no person or TV programmes need to be regulated under PECA. “I do not think this amendment can be sustained, we are ready to talk to all media representatives and stakeholders on the issue,” he said.

“I have apprised the prime minister that some things will be retracted from the ordinance. We will also take PFUJ, CPNE and all stakeholders on board,” he added.

Justice Minallah said that no public figure can resort to criminal defamation for their benefit. He asked why should anyone even be bothered by what is being written on social media as all political parties, in fact, encourage their social media teams.

“If political parties ask their supporters to stop defaming individuals then whatever is happening on social media would be resolved,” the judge said.

He maintained that the attorney general has assured the court on behalf of the FIA and the federal government that Section 20 of the ordinance will not affect anyone.

“Maybe if all stakeholders sit together; this ordinance would be abolished. But if it remains and defamation is made a criminal offense then all politicians, as well as v-loggers, will be in jail,” the judge said.

PFUJ’s counsel Adil Aziz Qazi, while backing the advice of Justice Minallah, said, “We are ready to sit together with them [the government to resolve the issue].”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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