The network of civil society, rights bodies and service providers associations petitioned to the upper house of parliament. The protest was against the government’s decision to not include them in the process of consultation, as per advertisement.
Despite formation of a sub-committee to finalize the draft unanimously, the rights activists, civil society network and media were excluded from the process. The opposition members raised objections and remained divided. The matter has been referred to the main committee. A member of the committee disclosed that in all meetings she remained busy in removing grammatical errors from the draft.
The network made National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology as party in the petition. Reporters without Borders, Free Network, Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), Bytes for All, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Bolo Bhi and others are part of the alliance.
The petitioner said that the government’s proposed cybercrime bill titled ‘The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015’ is pending before the NA’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecom. The bill when tabled drew immense criticism from industry, civil society and media groups as well as from members of opposition across parties. Human rights groups and journalist associations under the Joint Action Committee (JAC) expressed their reservations in writing to the NA’s Standing Committee on IT Telecom. They submitted a request for a public hearing on the bill.
The petition stated that while the public hearing request was not granted, selected invitations were issued to some members of the Joint Action Committee on May 22 2015. In light of reservations expressed regarding the government’s proposed draft of the bill raised by JAC, Muhammad Safdar constituted a subcommittee so that the bill is reviewed and reservations addressed.
Further the legal team of the MoITT was instructed to hold a meeting with members of JAC who attended the meeting. Contact details for all the groups and their representatives were submitted the same day at the Parliament House to the IT committee secretary.
“However to date we have received no formal notification for any meeting to discuss the bill not by the ministry and neither the subcommittee,” reads the petition. On August three and four members of the JAC initiated meetings with the legal team of MoITT and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
“On August 5 it was through a television show that we learned a meeting of the NA’s standing committee on IT had been called the next day to finalize the bill. Similarly members of opposition on the committee hardly received a day’s notice for the meeting and recorded their protest at the meeting held on August 6,” it maintained.
The committee meeting on August 6 chaired by Major (Retd) Tahir Iqbal concluded there would be one more meeting before the bill is finalized. “Despite submitting a legal redraft which the committee had asked the JAC to do and a request for meeting on August 11 we have received no notification for a meeting,” the network of civil society stated.
Instead, a subcommittee meeting was scheduled once again at a day’s notice for August 13 to discuss the bill. Once again industry and rights groups as well as journalist associations have been excluded from the process.
In its prayer, the network requested, “We request that all concerned groups and citizens be given at least one opportunity to express their reservations and proposed changes to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015. We would appreciate if a hearing can be called to discuss this. We can explain our reservations and recommended revisions before the respected members of parliament of both the upper and lower house.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2015.