ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday summoned the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) to appear before the court in person in identical petitions challenging vires of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief 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, the counsel representing the 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 pending trials, and orders federal and provincial officials to remove any obstacles that may hinder the progress of the proceedings.

He contended that the ordinances are issued through executive power which could be subject to judicial review. According to the lawyer, the Constitution allowed the issuance of ordinances under Article 89 in cases of emergency.

The PFUJ lawyer informed the court that the session of the National Assembly was postponed which showed the mala fide intention of this law.

The counsel for Farhatullah Babar said that Article 19-A that is related to freedom of speech did mention some limitations but they are pertaining to national security, blasphemy, provocation, and contempt of court.

After conclusion of the arguments of the petitioners’ lawyers, Justice Athar summoned the AGP and deferred the hearing till March 21.

In this matter, the PFUJ moved the petition, citing president of Pakistan, Federation of Pakistan through Ministry of Law’s secretary and Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage’s secretary as respondents.

The petitioner prayed to the court that the promulgation of the impugned Prevention of Electronic Crimes Amendment (PECA) 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 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.