Pakistan enacts unprecedentedly harsh laws to control social media in the country

MADRID, Feb. 20 (Royals Blue) –

The president of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, has promulgated this Sunday a package of laws to control the content on social networks, which increase the prison sentence for the crime of defamation, among other aspects, and which activists and opposition leaders directly brand as “draconian”.

The new legislation updates the so-called Electronic Crime Prevention Act of 2016 (PECA) and, in addition to increasing the prison sentence for defamation of any person or institution from three to five years, eliminates the possibility of posting a bail. Those defamed will not have to present their case themselves, but anyone can act as a party.

Likewise, and in a measure directly aimed at the media, it broadens the definition of “person suspected” of defamation to “any company, association or group of people, whether constituted or not”, as opposed to any “institution, organization, authority or any other body established by the government,” including the country’s influential Army.

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The new ordinance also speeds up judicial processes in these cases and gives the courts six months “after taking cognizance of the case” to conclude the proceedings, according to the Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’.

The Minister of Justice, Farogh Nasim, has confirmed that these new laws are specifically directed against the “dissemination of false news, as much as the media are free to criticize what they want”, in particular reference to information about a possible divorce of the first country’s minister, Imran Jan.

“They are saying that the first lady had a fight (with her husband) that led her to leave her home. How can such incorrect stories be spread?” the minister asked.

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In response, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has criticized legislation it describes as “undemocratic” and which is designed to be “inevitably” used to “suppress dissidents and critics of the government and institutions state”.

The opposition has also denounced that this presidential ordinance has a “wide and draconian scope”, in the words of Senator Sherry Rehman, of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party.

The PECA has been modified several times since 2016. Without going any further, last year the Government changed the regulations to allow authorities to access user data.

Censorship has increased in Pakistan since Khan’s military-backed government took power after controversial 2018 elections.

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