Cybercrime bill drafted ‘in haste’
ISLAMABAD: Dissatisfied with the current draft of the cybercrimes bill, opposition parties plan to block the government from moving forward with the legislation until appropriate amendments have been incorporated in it.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have drawn parallel drafts to force the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) into removing certain ‘contentious’ clauses from the cybercrimes bill approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication.
“We have serious reservations over [the bill] in its present form and are tabling a set of amendments in the NA,” said Dr Shireen Mazari, the PTI’s whip in the lower house of parliament.
PPP MNA Shazia Marri said: “We have already raised objections over the process [as] the panel did not complete the due process and the bill was rushed through.”
Nauman Sheikh, another MNA from the party, said: “It was decided that deliberations would be carried out with the main committee, but we were not provided copies of the draft before the bill was approved.”
An insider told The Express Tribune that after an election tribunal unseated the then NA speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the IT committee led by Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar refused to hold a public hearing on the bill in accordance with the ruling of the former custodian of the house.
The committee hastily wrapped up its work without holding consultations beyond those that took place behind closed doors.
Lawmakers from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had also voiced their concerns over the bill before they resigned from the house.
A member of the committee said that at a time when the government was not even considering convening an NA session due to the speaker’s ‘unceremonious’ ouster and the MQM’s resignation issue, Safdar opted for finishing the challenging task.
An official of the information ministry said the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 was the brainchild of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s two non-elected key advisers – Advocate Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed and Barrister Zafarullah Khan – who played an important role in getting the bill approved from the committee.
Another IT official claimed that the duo also attended almost all the hearings of the relevant committees to ensure restriction on public hearings and media coverage.
A Parliament House official said Sadiq was in favour of an open hearing on the controversial bill before presenting it to the house for voting.
PML-N lawmakers opposed expanding the consultation process to the public and decided to refer the matter to a sub-committee, which refused to invite the stakeholders, the public and the media to the hearings.
Marri raised objections over the process and suggested that an open hearing be convened. She also proposed some amendments.
PML-N MNA Awais Leghari claimed that the government had obtained maximum input on the bill. He complained about the media’s investigative coverage of the proceedings and termed them ‘unethical’.
Marri said the process was completed in unnecessary haste, adding that she had written to the IT committee suggesting amendments in the draft.
The civil society has already filed a public petition in Senate, terming the bill in its current form ‘against basic human rights’.