FIA halts arrests under PECA, IHC told

AGP says law tweak implementation on hold until court gets report

Our Correspondent March 10, 2022


The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was informed on Thursday that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) would ensure that there were no more arrests under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Amendment Ordinance until a report on the matter submitted in the court.

During hearing of petitions against the PECA Ordinance, Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that if defamation was criminalised then all elected representatives and vloggers would land in jail. The court directed the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) to present his final arguments on Monday.

The chief justice heard the petitions filed by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and other journalists organisations, including the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

Journalists Defence Committee lawyers Usman Warraich, Iman Hazir Mazari, Sajid Tanoli, Aftab Alam, Advocate Munir A Malik, Barrister Omar Ijaz Gilani, Osama Khawar and FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing Director Babar Bakht appeared before the court.

AGP Khalid Javed Khan told the court that he had met the prime minister on the PECA Ordinance and informed him that some sections of the ordinance would have to be withdrawn. He informed the court that in his view the current amendment ordinance were not sustainable.

Stressing that he was representing the Federation and not any political party, the AGP said that when the ordinance was implemented only then it was discovered that the law could be misused. He added there was a suggestion that no action should be taken until a commission was set up on the matter.

AGP Khan said that the government would also take PFUJ, CPNE and all other stakeholders on board. He informed the chief justice that there was a court order and no case would proceed under the amended ordinance. He assured that he would not defend the case if his words were not acted upon.

The chief justice remarked that if defamation was made part of the criminal law, it would not apply to public office holders. He also said that making arrest in defamation case could not be justified. He termed the AGP’s statement in the court on behalf of the government appropriate.

The chief justice told the court that the AGP had assured the FIA and the federal government that no one would be affected. He added that all the stakeholders should sit down with the attorney general to find a solution.

The chief justice observed that parliament had made defamation a criminal offence under Section 20 of the act and stressed that the court could not suspend an act of parliament. He added that the AGP’s proposal was appropriate.

PFUJ’s Lawyer Adil Aziz Qazi said that about half of the ordinance, the AGP had himself said that he would not defend it. He expressed his willingness to sit with the AGP. The chief justice said that if all the stakeholders sat together even the ordinance could be withdrawn.

Iman Mazari Advocate asked as to why the government did not hold consultations before issuing an ordinance, while Advocate Usman Warraich raised the issue of the on-going trials in the courts under PECA Ordinance.

The AGP replied that at present, no case was pending in any court under the PECA Amendment Ordinance. He added that the amendment would not be implemented until the report was presented in the court. Under the amended ordinance, the AGP further said, the FIA would not make any arrests until the report was presented in the court.

Read More: Govt urged to repeal amendment to 'draconian' PECA Ordinance

Meanwhile, the FIA director informed the court that 244,000 complaints had been registered in the last three years and 94,000 of them were under the PECA Section 20. The court asked how many of those 94,000 complaints were from public office holders. The FIA director replied that number was unknown.

The court ruled that TV programmes did not fall under the purview of the PECA 20. The chief justice told the FIA that they arrested one person in one day and asked the director if the agency did its analysis. He further said that the case against media personality Mohsin Baig was a classic case of abuse of power.

Azhar Siddique Advocate sought to give arguments in the case of MNA Kanwal Shauzab. The chief justice told the lawyer that he was also a vlogger and someone could lodge a complaint against him. The lawyer replied that he was ready for it.

The chief justice said that freedom of press and freedom of speech were essential. He observed that Kanwal Shauzab was an elected representative and that the elected representatives must present themselves for criticism.

Shauzab told the court that she was a public office holder but she also had the freedom of expression. She added that neither she was rich nor a bully. Referring to the allegations against her person, she asked was it the freedom of speech that allegations were hurled at her.

The chief justice told the attorney general that there was a complaint from elected representatives and asked whether it merited. He added that public representatives should be encouraged to tolerate criticism. The court later sought final arguments in the case on Monday.


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