SC stays criminal proceedings against Meesha Shafi

Justice Isa questions why freedom of expression is being turned into a criminal act


Our Correspondent June 08, 2022

ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday admitted a petition filed by singer Meesha Shafi against Section 20 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) as it ordered officials concerned to stay criminal proceedings against her till the next hearing.

The top court said that civil proceedings against the singer regarding defamation would continue, however. The bench issued notices to the attorney general and Punjab advocate general for assistance and postponed the proceedings indefinitely.

During the hearing, Justice Qazi Faez Isa said that one high court – the Islamabad High Court – declared Section 20 void whereas another, the Lahore High Court, kept it intact. “What would be the constitutional status of two [high court] rulings that contradict each other,” he questioned. “Can a defamation case be filed under the criminal law,” he further asked.

Meesha’s lawyer said that defamation was a non-criminal offence and a fine is usually imposed in case it’s proved.

Read Media misreported the case, says Meesha Shafi outside court

Justice Isa further asked whether Section 20 was in contrast to Article 19 of the Constitution.”Why is the freedom to express being turned into a criminal act,” Justice Isa asked.

The judge added whether there will be a sentence for “calling a thief a thief”. “If someone calls someone a thief or a murderer, will they be punished for just saying that? Justice Isa asked.

“Nowadays, you will only hear ‘thieves, thieves’ on every TV channel”, the judge said, adding that fingers were also being pointed at judges, why?

All of these campaigns attract defamatory proceedings, Zafar’s lawyer added.

Read more Meesha's plea seeking quashment of FIR dismissed

Justice Isa added that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) turned blind eye to the content of proscribed outfits on social media but it would swing into action quickly on a single tweet. “In Pakistan, you could say anything about anybody and no one will be bothered to take action,” the judge added.

Justice Isa said during military dictator Ziaul Haq’s rule, women were convicted under the Qazf ordinance. He, however, added Islam granted complete protection to women.

Ali Zafar’s lawyer said a campaign was started on social media to defame his client. Justice Isa said he knew and understood what was defamatory on social media and adjourned the hearing.

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