PM appears ‘misinformed’ on legislation to outlaw fake news: IHC

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) said the prime minister appears to be “misinformed” on the legislation to outlaw fake news and punish offenders with a five-year prison sentence, in a move described by critics as an attempt to crack down on dissent.

The court was conducting a hearing on a petition challenging the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

Among effecting other changes that have rendered the stringent law originally introduced in 2016 by the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) even more so, the ordinance makes online defamation a non-bailable, cognisable offence and increases the prison term to a maximum of five years.

In a letter to the prime minister, Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin ul-Haque, suggested that the government withdraw or review the ordinance.

“It is through the media that the government is able to project its image to the public. By pushing forward with these amendments without consulting the relevant stakeholders, in this case, media practitioners, the government will stoke anger and resentment within the journalistic community,” he said.

During the proceedings on Tuesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed the law appears to be targeting the dissenting voices.

Last night’s address of Prime Minister Imran Khan showed he was misinformed on the ordinance, he added.

On the admissibility of the petition, Justice Minallah said the court would surely hear a petition filed by a former president of Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA).

The counsel for the petitioner, Hassan Irfan, said the plea contains two different points from the previously filed petitions against the ordinance.

“The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) doesn’t reserve the authority to deal with a matter between two private persons,” the lawyer said, adding the agency can only look into cases involving the federal government.

In a previous hearing, IHC had declared the ordinance as “draconian law”.

While hearing petitions filed against the FIA for exceeding its authority in the arrest of analyst Mohsin Baig, the court said: “You are imposing censorship through this law.”

Justice Minallah said non-implementation of already devised standard operating procedures (SoPs) is the worst thing.

He said that whenever an ordinance is prepared, it has to get a green signal from both the Houses of Parliament. At this, the attorney general said the approval can be obtained from even one House, the National Assembly.

Responding to the attorney general, the court said the ordinance stands rejected even if one House vetoes it.

IHC also stopped the authorities from carrying out arrests under section 20 of the ordinance.

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