ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) will Monday (today) resume hearing 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 will conduct hearing of the petitions filed by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar and others challenging the recently promulgated Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

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 and 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 stated that through the said Ordinance sections 2, 20, and 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, organization, 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 adopted the stance that the ordinance aims to stifle criticism and debate on the actions of the public office holders in the garb of action against fake news and disinformation. They said that criticism of the actions of the public office holders was necessary for a vibrant democracy.

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.

The counsel added that increase in the period of imprisonment from three to five years for disseminating false statements as provided for through the impugned Ordinance is calculated to impose “self-censorship” which impinges the liberty of man and is an affront to human dignity.

He also argued that the impugned ordinance under the pretence and disguise of fighting fake news and disinformation will in reality shutter discussion and comment on the working of public figures, officials and institutions which discussion and comment is vital to good governance and a functioning democracy.

Therefore, he prayed that the court may strike down the said Ordinance.