ISLAMABAD—Terming the Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act 2016 a “gift” of the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, Dawn newspaper on Sunday highlighted the atmosphere of fear in which journalists were working in Pakistan.
However, the editorial, Harassing journalists, welcomed the fact that “the Federal Investigation Agency had not registered cases against journalists and activists.”
Last week DawnNews reported the registration of cases against 49 journalists and social media activists for allegedly defaming national institutions. But later the Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari clarified that FIA had received only a complaint and had booked no journalist.
Dawn said: “While the clarification brought some relief, the episode underscores the climate of fear in which journalists operate. It also reminds us of the spate of cases that have been filed against journalists in recent weeks.”
The paper, however, talked about the registration of cases against three journalists—Abasr Alam, Asad Ali Toor, and Bilal Farooqi for allegedly defaming the military.
The editorial said the PECA enabled “the state to protect itself by blocking criticism and stripping citizens of their rights. It is the most sinister cybercrime legislation in the country as it goes beyond just computer-related crimes and gives authorities the licence to criminalise, restrict and prosecute free speech.”
It said Section 37 of the Act gives sweeping powers to the PTA to block or remove online content. In contrast, Section 20 introduces criminal defamation through an ambiguous section with a three-year jail term and a hefty fine—both strong indicators of the legal framework for the erosion of free speech. As a result of this law and the way it is used, the media is experiencing an unprecedented wave of both imposed restrictions and self-censorship, the paper said.
Dawn called on lawmakers to pass the bill on the protection of journalists. “There is an urgent need for lawmakers to address this and take action—the first step of which should be the passing of the human rights ministry’s comprehensive bill on the protection of journalists; the bill has been lying with the law ministry for months. Condemnation of individual cases of intimidation is not enough.