ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has demanded immediate repeal of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.
In a statement issued by the NCHR on Wednesday, the Commission expressed serious reservations on the promulgation of the Ordinance and termed it incompatible with the fundamental human right to the freedom of speech and expression – a right enshrined within Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, and protected under various international agreements to which Pakistan is a party.
The statement said that such enactment through an Ordinance without consultation with the relevant stakeholders vitiates the democratic process.
The statement welcomed the order by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to hold off on making arrests under Section 20 of the Ordinance, and appreciates the role of the judiciary in ensuring freedom of speech.
The Section 20 of PECA criminalises defamation, and the newly added Sub Section (1-A) of Section 20 extends the right to lodge a complaint to any member of the public even if they are not defamed. The amendment also defines “persons” to include “any company, association or body of persons whether incorporated or not, institutions, organisations, authority or any other body established by the government”.
The NCHR statement said that the use of vague language and broad definitions leaves room for the misapplication of the law to restrict political discourse and dissent, both of which are integral to a functioning democracy.
“NCHR strongly believes that the freedom of the press is an inviolable right as it is necessary to inform and foster debate, and to hold public officials accountable for their policies and actions. Therefore, NCHR demands for an immediate repeal of the Ordinance,” said the statement.