Civil society members, representatives of media and the legal fraternity as well as information technology experts on Sunday castigated the government for attempting to “infringe the rights of freedom of expression through proposed legislation on cybercrime”.
The government has already got the National Assembly’s Standing Committee to approve the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 and forwarded it to the house for legislation recently.
In an interactive session organised by the National Press Club Islamabad, members of civil society expressed their serious apprehensions over some controversial clauses in the proposed legislation. They asked the government to review what can be misused for arm-twisting of media practitioners, social media activists and the society at large.
Some participants insisted that political objectives were probably behind the cybercrime bill, claiming that the government wants to stifle freedom of expression and freedom of speech through the legislation.
Usama Khilji, a free speech campaigner, said the government failed to take civil society and representative of IT industry into confidence over the cybercrime legislation.
“In a democracy, it is unfair for a government to come up with legislation on a sensitive issue without active participation of the citizens and relevant stakeholders,” he said.
Khilji stated that if the bill is passed in its present form, the government will get the legal powers to block news websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Tahir Malik, professor at the National University of Modern Languages, said a society cannot progress without critical thinking and fair competition to acquire modern techniques and skills.
“All segments of society, including journalists, doctors and engineers, should be engaged in the effort to raise their voice against the cybercrime bill as it is bound to curtail freedom of expression if passed by parliament,” he noted.
Shaharyar Khan, president National Press Club, likened the cybercrime bill to Press and Publication Ordinance promulgated by then president Ayub Khan in 1960.
“It is unfortunate that a democratic government wants to impose a law on journalists and the citizens that even dictators failed to do,” he said, adding the journalists concerns about the bill would be conveyed to the government.
He warned that if the government tried to pass the bill in its present form, then journalists would stage protest demonstrations against the government across the country, besides blocking coverage of parliamentarians.
Business models of news organisations are changing as they are fast turning to internet and social media, he said, adding the government should apply forward thinking to strengthen journalists instead of curtailing their freedom of expression.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2015.