ISLAMABAD   -   The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday sought detailed report from FIA in identical petitions challenging vires of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah conducted hearing of the petitions filed by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar and others challenging the recently promulgated Prevention of Electronic Crimes (amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

During the hearing, Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadood appeared before the court and stated that 22 thousand complaints out of 94 thousand had been addressed. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah noted that the FIA had no such capacity as the officers have no professional training in this regard.

The bench said that the FIA had taken action on certain complaints to protect the repute of public office holders. It further said that there were only four thousand cases before the bench out of 22 thousand cases. The Additional Attorney General said that the ordinance could not be tabled in both houses at the same time. He said that section-20 of PECA should remain intact with the ordinance.

The AAG said that the public office holders and policies could be criticised. However, personal attacks on public office holders and their relatives should not be permitted. He said that an independent judiciary was working in the country to protect basic human rights. Later, the court sought detailed report from the Director Cyber Crime Wing of FIA and deferred the hearing of the case.

Previously, the counsel representing Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and other media bodies informed the court about the impact of the controversial PECA ordinance on the independence of judiciary. Their counsel Muneer A Malik Advocate said that Article 144-A of PECA undermined the independence of the judiciary and the judges.

He adopted the stance that the amendment to PECA makes it incumbent upon courts to conclude trials within six months and furnish monthly progress reports of the pending trials, and orders federal and provincial officials to remove any obstacles that may hinder the progress of the proceedings.

In this matter, the PFUJ moved the petition through their counsels Adil Aziz Qazi Advocate and Haseeb Hassan Advocate and cited President of Pakistan, Federation of Pakistan through Secretary Ministry of Law and Federation of Pakistan through Secretary Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage as respondents.

The petitioner prayed to the court that the Promulgation of the impugned Prevention of Electronic Crimes Amendment Ordinance of 2022 itself and the Ordinance may be declared as ultra-vires to the entire scheme of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 and the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan.

The petition said that through the said Ordinance sections 2, 20, 43 have been amended while section 44A has been inserted in the existing law. The definition of the term “person” has been extended to company, association or body of persons whether incorporated or not, institution, organisation, authority or any other body established by the Government.

It also said, “Furthermore in section 20 the word natural has been omitted and the sentence has been increased from three to five years while adding a new subsection 1(A) whereby the informant or complainant in respect of offence under subsection (1) shall be an aggrieved person, his authorized representative, or his guardian, where such person is a minor, or a member of the public in respect of a public figure or a holder of public office” has been added to the existing law.”

Similarly, the petitioners including Pakistan Broadcasters Association, All Pakistan News Papers Society, Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Mohammad Malick, Azhar Abbas, Ali Kazam Waheed, Aijaz-ul-Haq and Sarmad Ali moved the petition through lawyer Munir A Malik.

They also said that Section 44 (a)(5) inserted in the ordinance - that bounds the courts to decide defamation cases within six months - will pressurise the judges hearing the cases.