- A legal perspective
Internet and social media in the last few decades have advanced drastically, and so has the law, which regulates and governs the same
William Lamb (Lord Melbourne) quotes “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”
Et tu, Brute? (and you, Brutus?) a phrase which reached its pinnacle of fame from its’ emergence in William Shakespeare‘s play Julius Caesar; wherein it was uttered by the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus, in Act III, scene-2; as he was being stabbed to death, having recognised his friend and protégé among the assassins. Whereof, in today’s literature, the term nonetheless signifies and connotes unexpected betrayal by a friend.
Similar feelings surfaced within the Pakistanis, on account of tweets entailing therein a verdict against the nation as a whole, passed by the two times Oscar winner Sharmeen Obeid Chinoy. The lady somehow gathered the audacity to prescribe in her tweet “Pakistan has zero boundaries”; whilst forgetting the fact that she too, no matter where she resides, would always be deemed to be a part and parcel of this realm. Perhaps, regretfully disgracing this country over a cup of coffee by the pseudo-elite and the self-proclaimed intellects is the “New In”! Though, only if she could be reminded about the flexibility, open-handedness and munificence this nation has shown towards her, by celebrating her achievement and referring it their own, despite the fact that her work scandalously depicted the petite episodes of brutality as the daily chore of the nation as a whole. Hence, in the past, nation has not only absorbed the attempt of tarnish but also accepted the critique with open arms.
Internet and social media in the last few decades have advanced drastically, and so has the law, which regulates and governs the same. Legally, the simplest formula, which can safeguard an individual from facing the gate flows of legal saga on the account of crossing that thin red line of deviance on social media is Don’t post it If you can’t prove it! Ms Chinoy’s recent tweet as prescribed above, if treated as a statement or even an opinion, actually provided locus standi – right to bring a legal action; to any and all the holders of the green passport on account defamation, under section-4 of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002.
Whereof, prior to opining upon the act of the doctor which ultimately led to his termination i.e. sending a “friend request” on Facebook to a patient, and commenting on her pictures. Most importantly, the phenomenon of “harassment” needs to be understood. In Oxford English Dictionary, “harassment” is defined as “aggressive pressure or intimidation”, whereas; the legal definition of the said term is “the act of systematic and / or continued unwanted and annoyed actions of one individual, or a group, including threats and demands”.Whilst determining whether an act or an omission falls within the prescribed code of harassment law, the courts analyse and explore the impugned act on the touchstone of intent, morality, ethics and frequency.
Prima-facie, the doctor’s termination by the hospital administration, is not only ill-founded being premature as the harassment has not yet been proven by the appropriate legal forum, but is also liable to be challenged in the court of law, on the following grounds:
Primarily, the term “friend request” is self-explanatory, it by no iota of doubts elicits forceful invasion of privacy or indecent gesture. By sending such a request, a person is merely making an offer to the recipient. Whereas, the recipient is at full liberty to either accept or reject the same. Thus, where a recipient has the final authority as to the fate of the said request, then the said action cannot be termed to be an act of indecency or forceful within the four squares of harassment law. Subsequently, as far as the comments on the pictures are concerned, the publisher despite having the inherent powers to restrict the audience of a post by virtue of the privacy policies, intentionally chooses for the same to be visible to the public at large. Then under such circumstances, making a comment does not automatically expose the author to penalties under the harassment law unless and until the content as published by the author is dishonest, forbidden, indecent and immoral.
Without prejudice to the above discussion, harassment against women is a global issue, and the said virtue unfortunately also infects Pakistan as well. However, at the same time, Ms Chinoy’s suggestions as voiced viz her tweet making this country jungle infested with women harassment isn’t correct. Like all other countries, preventive steps in order to sojourn the harassment against women are being taken and implemented in Pakistan. In March 2010, the government passed two laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act amended the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, making workplace harassment against women punishable with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500,000 rupees or both. This new law defined “sexual harassment” more preciously and also enhanced punishment under Section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code.
In addition to the above, committees such as National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC) under direct supervision of National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) have been constituted in May 2010 on the directive of the then Prime Minister. The said committee aims to ensure the rigorous implementation of the women protection law across the country and in lieu thereto the aid committee visits the public, private, educational and civil society institutions, randomly, in order to monitor the compliance of the above encapsulated Act(s).
Moreover, a web-based database titled ‘Sexual Harassment Watch’ has also been launched where organisations share the compliance information with other organizations. Police in Punjab province also has been given training on application of section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code,1860 and were advised to register sexual harassment cases under section 509 instead of section 107 of the Code.
Wiliiam Lamb (Lord Melbourne) quotes “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”. Miss Chinoy is widely followed all over the world. Her readers, by all means, take her statements on score of the fame she enjoys seriously. As a Pakistani, her rightful critique shall always be welcomed and may also be applauded as in the past. However, her recklessness on score of crafting an erroneous and misleading picture about the nation as a whole cannot be accepted.
Similarly, no one doubts the authenticity of her feelings against the impugned act of the doctor but a person cannot be a judge of their own cause. The route, which she followed, is objectionable though, as she on her own accord couldn’t pass the verdict of harassment. A complaint should have been lodged with cyber crime wing of FIA, and incase her allegations led to the indictment of any cognizable offence by the investigative authority only then could she have termed the act as indecent and uncalled-for; but only to the extent of the doer and not the nation as a whole.