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Attack on media freedoms through PECA ordinance – vows to challenge it in court

Associated Press Service

ISLAMABAD: February 20, 2022-The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed serious concerns over the reported approval of the federal cabinet to make draconian amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, through an ordinance.

 In a joint statement, President PFUJ Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said that it is alarming that instead of reforming existing laws to enforce constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and right to information, the laws are being amended further to make them more coercive aimed at eroding these rights.

 All the stakeholders, including the media community and civil society have been agitating for and demanding withdrawal of black clauses in PECA 2016 that are against civil liberties and basic human rights ensured in both the UN charter and the constitution of Pakistan, but it appears that the government is now making the laws more regressive in the name of dignity and security of institutions,” they said.

There are already clear provisions in the constitution protecting the integrity and dignity of the judiciary and the armed forces so why the need for further coercive measures,” they asked.

 The PFUJ leadership pointed out that the courts can use all available relevant laws to punish anyone involved in intentionally vilifying or defaming any institution with a mala fide purpose while any citizen can be prosecuted under the Defamation Act for any similar grievance, and therefore there was no need to amend PECA for enhancing punishments.

It appears that the government is driven by mala fide intentions as the proposed amendments, especially without any parliamentary inputs, are designed to further shrink the space for freedom of press and expression which is already deeply compromised as evinced by various media freedom indexes,” the statement said.

 The PFUJ leaders said despite this if the government is still determined to introduce such harsh provisions and punishments then people would be forced to conclude that the PTI-led government is on a mission to silence all critical voices.

 The PFUJ leaders vowed to challenge this proposed ordinance in court besides launching a country wide protest against its issuance. “This government action is unwarranted and deplorable and undermines democratic, political and media freedoms,” they added.

They also appealed to all media, journalists, civil society and political parties, as well as saner voices within the PTI, to register their protest against this proposed ordinance and block it in the parliament for saving democracy and freedom of expression and to prevent Pakistan’s further backsliding in international media freedom indexes.

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