ISLAMABAD   -   The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday deferred hearing in identical petitions challenging vires of the    Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022.A single bench comprising Chief Justice of IHC   Athar Minallah conducted a 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.

However, the bench adjourned the hearing due to the non-availability of Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP). During the hearing, deputy attorney general informed the court that the AGP could not appear before the bench due to his engagement at the Supreme Court. At this, the judge said that the AG should appoint someone to appear before the court on his behalf on the next hearing if he is busy. Later, the court adjourned the hearing till March 25.

Previously, the bench had summoned the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) to appear before the court in person in this matter. During the last hearing, the counsel representing Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and other media bodies informed the court about the impact of the controversial Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (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 further said that the section introduced as 44A (5) is a colourable piece of legislation and shall pressurise the judge and hang as a sword over his independence and would thus be offensive of Article 175 and 10-A of the Constitution. 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.