Govt proposes same sentence for blasphemers, false accusers

Published: February 17, 2018
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IHC says proposed amendments in cybercrime laws ‘apparently’ cover all aspects . PHOTO: REUTERS

IHC says proposed amendments in cybercrime laws ‘apparently’ cover all aspects . PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: In an attempt to stop misuse of blasphemy laws, the federal government has proposed amendment in the country’s cybercrime laws to introduce the same punishment for the blasphemers and false accusers of blasphemy.

The draft of proposed amendments in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016, was presented on Friday by Deputy Attorney General Arshad Mehmood Kayani before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui.

“Apparently, [the] draft covers all aspects, but it is for the legislature to deliberate, discuss and approve the amendments,” Justice Siddiqui later said in the order, adding that since corresponding amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) is also required, the law ministry is directed to proceed accordingly.

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Talking to The Express Tribune, Kayani said changes in Peca are aimed at curbing blasphemous actions committed online.  He said Peca deals with cybercrimes but it is silent about online blasphemous content while on the other hand the PPC only deals with blasphemous behaviour in regular interactions.

“This is the first time the federal government is equating punishment for false accusation of blasphemy. The draft might take a few months to be incorporated into Peca but the federal government is seriously pursuing the matter,” he added.

On Friday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) also submitted before the court a report on blasphemous and pornographic content on internet. According to the report, the PTA has blocked 23,558 websites containing blasphemous content and 763,202 web links containing pornography.

According to the order, the PTA told the IHC that as far as technical solution – National Firewall – is concerned, expression of interest has been invited and there is likelihood of material progress in this regard. He directed the respondents to bring updates into the notice of the court on or before next date of hearing.

Justice Siddiqui had directed the authorities concerned to include sections related to blasphemy and pornography in the cybercrimes act and to inquire about the NGOs operating in Pakistan with an agenda to spread blasphemous content and promote pornography.

He had earlier noted that two important aspects – blasphemy and pornography – have not specifically been mentioned in Peca 2016, and subsequently directed respondent concerned to complete legal requirements in this regard.

He had also ordered that the top leadership of the country needed to become proactive on the issue for raising national ‘firewall’ enabling Pakistan to monitor Pakistan’s internet traffic and all the users.

“This court feels that executive authorities have seriously started to act in order to execute the judgment [passed on March 31, 2017] in its letter and spirit,” Justice Siddiqui said.

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Currently, the court is conducting hearings in connection with compliance reports and non-implementation of the judgment passed on March 31, carrying several directions for the government to deal with blasphemous and pornographic content on social media.

Petitioner Salman Shahid through his counsel Tariq Asad had approached the IHC, saying blasphemy was being committed through certain pages on social media. He had requested the court to direct the respondents to block all such pages on social media and initiate legal proceedings against the accused.

Earlier, the IHC had ordered the Interior Minister to eliminate blasphemous pages on social media, even at the cost of blocking entire social media. Following the hearing on Friday, the court adjourned the matter till March 16.

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