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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated on Sunday that the government has no intention to put any restriction on freedom of media and expression.

Talking to a delegation of the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), the prime minister also assured that journalists would be provided with all possible protection against unwarranted actions under the PECA ordinance and other related laws.

He said that ministry of law had already been tasked to review the PECA ordinance.

Praising CPNE’s role for the freedom of media, strengthening of democracy, and evolution of democratic institutions in the country, the prime minister said that the government was keen to engage constructively with the CPNE and other media representative bodies for the protection of the rights of journalists and promotion of responsible journalism in the country.

The prime minister’s remarks come a day after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) moved the Supreme Court to seek suspension of the Islamabad High Court’s order declaring the amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) through an ordinance in February 2022 as “unconstitutional”.

In April, the Chief Justice of IHC Athar Minallah had struck down section 20 of the PECA 2016, and directed inquiry against the FIA officials of the Cyber Crime Wing.

However, the FIA on Saturday filed an appeal against the IHC order dated 08-04-22, claiming that the high court had misinterpreted Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

FIA challenges IHC order on PECA ordinance

It stated that the IHC’s decision resulted in the inactivity of Section 20 of PECA claiming that the decision will encourage violators to break the law.

The petitioner contended that the judge in chamber did not consider the factum that the respondent No1 did not array the FIA as respondent and, thus, the call-up to the FIA by the former would be considered to be authoritative, coupled with biasedness and undue partiality on the part of High Court.

The impugned interim Order dated 08.04.2022 of learned IHC is indirect clash and conflict with Article 184 (3) of the Constitution, which empowers the apex court to consider a question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights.

It said that the impugned interim order dated 08.04.2022 of IHC amounts to extending undue favor to the Respondent No1 (PFUJ) without any lawful justification, as certain unscrupulous elements amongst them are involved in slinging unbecoming, unparliamentarily, defamatory and sarcastic remarks/ language upon the law-abiding citizens as well as the judges of the superior judiciary, the hierarchy of the federation, and the armed forces.

It submitted that the judge in chamber while passing the impugned interim order dated 08.04.2022 has acted beyond jurisdiction by directing the secretary Ministry of Interior to conduct a probe into the conduct of the officials of the Cyber Crime Wing without any fault whatsoever on their part and, as such, the following observations recorded at sub paras (i) and (j) of para-1 can be termed as partial, arbitrary, coupled with prejudice and undue character assassination of concerned FIA officials acting strictly in accordance with the law.

The petitioner further said that the IHC single bench while passing observations at sub para (b) of impugned Order dated 08.04.2022 has grossly misinterpreted the provisions of Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution, which do afford the “Freedom of speech, etc” and “Right to Information”, with certain specific conditions and limitation i.e., subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, (commission of), or incitement to an offence.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in February this year promulgated the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, which was subsequently challenged by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) as well as various journalist organisations. Media organisations challenged the FIA’s ‘undue’ powers under Section 20 of the PECA Ordinance, which made defamation a treasonable offense, in the IHC.

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