When social media and online journalism was making a difference and providing an alternative voice to the people, government of Pakistan came up with a Cyber Crime bill which is feared for suppressing freedom of expression on Cyber space.
Pakistan Electronic Crime Bill 2016 is the official title of the cyber crime bill which was passed by Senate last week after accommodating few amendments of opposition. The claim that over 50 amendments of opposition have been accommodated can’t be verified and seems to be an exaggeration. Now this bill will be sent back to National Assembly for final approval and after that it will become law of the land.
Final draft of the bill approved by Senate is not publically available but a lot of information has appeared in media about the contents of the bill. There are a lot of vulnerabilities in the bill for citizens and it has a lot of loopholes which can result in human rights violation.
There are many points in the bill which are controversial and must not become part of the law when it’s approved. This bill has laid down punishments for different crimes which are too harsh and completely disproportionate to the crimes. Apart from that there are several terminologies in the bill which are vague and can be interpreted at convenience to victimize the citizens whenever required in a particular case.
In particular there are two main clauses which affect the online newspapers and the social media activists who use these mediums to raise their voice. The bill imposes blanket prohibition on criticism of judiciary, armed forces and foreign policy of the country in cyber space. It’s understood that there are certain limits which are not crossed while criticizing Judiciary and armed forces. But still there are a lot of political issues related to both of the aforementioned institutions which warrant criticism and its right of people to exercise that right. Moreover, Pakistan government is known for adopting flawed foreign policy at different times and in that context criminalizing criticism on foreign policy in Cyber space is absurd and draconian in nature. Such restrictions are not acceptable in any civilized society.
Anyone who writes a blog criticizing Ahsan Iqbal on CPEC related issues can be victimized under Cyber Crime bill
Secondly, there is another clause in the proposed bill which lays down harsh punishments for damaging reputation of a person. This clause is vague and any sort of criticism on a government official can be termed as damage to reputation. This clause would most certainly be used to sort out all the people who use cyber space to criticize government policies. For instance, anyone who writes a blog criticizing Ahsan Iqbal on CPEC related issues can be victimized under this clause which is fearsome.
Moreover, there is a huge unregulated cyber space in Pakistan which is operating without any law. So, there is definitely need of a law to regulate and control cyber space. Anyone who uses internet to harm others in form of cyber stalking, banking frauds, harassment of women etc should be penalized and there are no second thoughts on that. Similarly, anyone who threats the national security of the state can also be brought to justice using the cyber crime law. However, suppressing critics under the pretext of cyber stalking and national security should not be acceptable.
Suppressing critics under the pretext of cyber stalking and national security should not be acceptable
At the moment, Cyber crime bill is under discussion everywhere and aware citizens are concerned about its possible implications for the society at large. Contrary to popular belief people in Pakistan have a lot of space when it comes to expressing dissent. Unlike many other developing countries, Pakistan offers a higher degree of Freedom of expression. However the objectionable clauses in the cyber crime bill are a threat to this status of Pakistan. Passing of this bill without removal of the controversial clauses would tantamount to drift of Pakistan towards a totalitarian state which does not tolerate any dissent.
It’s hoped that PML-N government would not pass the cyber crime bill with the objectionable clauses included in it. Civil society has to be more vigilant in opposing the negative aspects of the bill. Lastly, there is also a hope that this bill can be possibly struck down by Supreme Court if it’s challenged after its passing due to its controversial nature.
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