Civil society concer -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Civil society concerned at passage of Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: The civil society in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has expressed concern over the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill from the Senate and believes that the right to freedom of expression, privacy, online campaigning and peaceful protests were at stake.

“The civil liberties, digital rights, privacy protections, freedom of expression and right to information are compromised through the bill,” Qamar Naseem, a human rights activist, said on Sunday. He said the Senate passed the bill without giving any weightage to the recommendations of civil society.

Qamar Naseem, coordinator of Blue Veins, a non-governmental organisation, said that draconian penalties were being imposed through the new law that were out of scale with the offences it ostensibly addressed, and didn’t protect the rights of citizens using internet and social media.

“Pakistan has ratified several global human rights standards including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which means it is binding for the state of Pakistan to promote and protect fundamental rights through effective law and policy making,” the right activist said.

He added rights based organisations believe that the right to freedom of expression, privacy, online campaigning, and peaceful protests are at serious stake under the bill.The Senate on July 29 unanimously adopted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB), 2016 without incorporating several amendments proposed by the opposition, including one envisaging parliamentary and judicial oversight of the law to check its possible misuse.

A jail term of 14 years will be awarded to those involved in terrorism-related cyber crimes, besides imposition of Rs50 million fine. Moreover, seven-year jail term will be for those found involved in spreading hatred and sectarianism through speeches.

A seven-year jail term will be handed down to those found involved in funding terrorism using internet, whereas seven-year jail term will also be for anyone involved in printing or uploading immoral images of children and they will also face a fine of Rs5 million.

Qamar Naseem said the bill violated the Constitution of Pakistan and the international treaties that Pakistan was a signatory to. “The Government of Pakistan must introduce a stringent personal data protection law that defends the rights of internet users in the country from harassment and abuses. Now it is responsibility the government to establish a privacy commission to perform surveillance and privacy oversight, to ensure that laws and provisions set up to protect citizens are strictly adhered to,” he added.

Zar Ali Khan, chairman of the Tribal NGOs Consortium and Fata Commission of Human Rights, said that the government must develop an action plan that ensures that the interpretations and implementation mechanism for the bill included experts and expertise on digital rights.

“This should include resource allocation and planning for capacity building of judiciary, lawyers and law enforcement institutions including raising awareness among citizens,” he added.Taimur Kamal, coordinator for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network said that the amendments proposed by the committee lacked the protection of journalist sources and whistle-blowers since the concerned sections in the bill were not touched upon.

“The right to express oneself freely in cyberspace is still in jeopardy, yet the power of censoring, blocking and removing online content under section 34 will remain with the regulatory body of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority without any constitutional or judicial oversight,” he added.

He said that section 34 of this bill would legitimise online censorship and was against the true spirit of the law. “PTA, a regulatory body that works directly under the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, is being given blanket authority to interpret the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan,” he added. The federal government has decided to table the controversial Cyber Crime Bill during the current session of National Assembly.

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