ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court accepted the petition of Meesha Shafi, a singer, against Section 20 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and ordered the concerned official to stay the criminal proceeding against her until the next date.

A two-member judge bench, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, on Wednesday heard an appeal of Shafi against Section 20 of the PECA. The bench, however, said the civil proceedings against the singer regarding defamation would continue. Attorney General for Pakistan and Advocate General Punjab were issued notice to assist the Court.

Justice Faez observed that there were contrary judgments of two high courts. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had voided Section 20 of the PECA, while the Lahore High Court (LHC) has maintained this section of the Act. “What would be the constitutional status of two [high court] rulings as both are contradictory to each other,” he questioned. “Can a defamation case be filed under the criminal law,” he further asked.

Shafi’s lawyer said that defamation was a non-criminal offence and a fine was usually imposed in case it’s proved.

Justice Isa further asked whether Section 20 was in contrast to Article 19 of the Constitution. “Why is the freedom to express being turned into a criminal act,” Justice Isa asked.

The judge inquired whether there will be a sentence for “calling a thief, a thief”. “If someone calls someone a thief or a murderer, will they be punished for just saying that?” Justice Isa asked.

“Nowadays, you will only hear ‘thieves, thieves’ on every TV channel,” the judge said. Fingers were also being pointed at judges, why? All of these campaigns attract defamatory proceedings, Zafar’s lawyer added.

Justice Isa added that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) turned a blind eye to the content of proscribed outfits on social media but it would swing into action quickly on a single tweet. “In Pakistan, you could say anything about anybody and no one will be bothered to take action,” the judge added.

Justice Isa said during military dictator Ziaul Haq’s rule, women were convicted under the Qazf ordinance. He, however, added Islam granted complete protection to women.

Ali Zafar’s lawyer said a campaign was started on social media to defame his client. Justice Isa said he knew and understood what was defamatory on social media. The case was adjourned for an indefinite period.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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