Online ‘defamation’ now a non-bailable offence

Amended PECA increases jail time for degrading civil, military institutions to five years

​ Our Correspondents February 20, 2022
Law Minister Farogh Naseem addresses media in Karachi on Feb 20, 2022. Photo: PID


President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (Peca) increasing the jail term for defaming any person or institution from three years to five years by making a change in Section 20 of the law while Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem has warned that spreading “fake news” was now a non-bailable offence.

Under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, which has "come into force at once", online public defamation has also been made a cognisable and a non-bailable offence.

The complainant has been defined as the aggrieved person, their authorised representative, their guardian in case they were a minor or "a member of the public in respect of a public figure or a holder of public office".

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The definition of a "person" has been expanded to include any “company, association or body of people whether incorporated or not, institution, organisation, authority or any other body set up by the government under any law or otherwise”.

The complainant can now seek defamation and criminal proceedings against the accused as it has now become a cognisable offence.

A new section has been inserted in the Act under which a timeline has been given to courts to dispose of a case.

"The trial shall be concluded expeditiously, but preferably not later than six months of taking cognisance of the case," it read.

The ordinance further read that a court would have to submit a monthly progress report of any pending trial to the high court concerned. It will also submit reasons for its inability to expeditiously conclude the trial.

It added that in case the high court found the reasons given by the court under sub-section (2) to be plausible, it might accept the explanation and prescribe fresh timelines for the conclusion of a trial.

However, if the high court acknowledged “difficulties, hindrances, and obstacles for concluding a trial expeditiously” that are removable by the federal or provincial government or any of its officers, it will call upon them for their removal.

It read that where the secretary of the provincial secretaries of the law and justice ministry was of the opinion that the delay in the disposal of the trial was attributable to a presiding officer or any of its functionaries, “[they] shall furnish such information to the high court concerned, proposing suitable action”.

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high court can order disciplinary action against the presiding officer or any of the court's functionaries if they are found to be responsible for the delay in the disposal of the trial.

The ordinance also read that the chief justice of every high court would also nominate a judge along with other officers from the court for acting under this section.

Earlier while addressing a news conference in Karachi, the federal law minister claimed that the government had amended the Peca 2016 to penalise fake news as "lies cannot be allowed to become the foundation of a society”.

He added that fake news stories were spread at the behest of foreign powers, particularly India, to create instability in Pakistan.

The minister also referred to the news report against an alleged rift between Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi, and said "this law will put an end to such news reports”.

Naseem further said a judge would be bound to decide cases about fake news within six months.

“In case a judge fails to adjudicate in the given time, a letter will be sent to the respective high court chief justice to seek an explanation from him [judge],” he added.

In response to a question, Naseem maintained that the amendments to the PECA law or Article 19 of the Constitution were not unconstitutional as the only purpose of this move was to curb fake news.

The ordinance criminalises defamation against civil and military institutions, as well as public office-holders.

Election law amended

In another ordinance drafted by PM's aide Babar Awan, the government amended the Election Act 2017 to allow parliamentarians to take part in election campaigns.

This law will allow lawmakers and others to visit and address public gatherings during election campaigns, which was earlier banned under the election code of conduct.

A day earlier, the federal cabinet had approved both the ordinances amid criticism that the government wanted to stifle freedom of expression through such laws.


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