The National Assembly approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016 once and for all last week amid widespread criticism, and many felt that the issue had reached its end, but the activism to mitigate the bill’s problems hasn’t died down yet. The bill has made it through parliament, but has to pass one more step before it becomes law: get the assent from the President.
As such the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international, independent watchdog body, has urged Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain to exercise his right and veto the bill. Technically, they are right, a bill has to receive the President’s assent to become a law, but calling it a ‘right’ to veto would be incorrect – it is really a formality.
A convention kept alive for symbolic and administrative reasons, the President’s signature is a no threat to a bill passed by the Parliament. A fact which is especially true if the President is Mamoon Hussain – who has rarely ventured forth politically and has never departed from the party line of Pakistan Muslim Leauge Nawaz (PML-N). The appeal to Mamnoon Hussain will yield no result, he will sign the bill, but the mere act of making it has brought the cybercrime bill back into the news cycle if not the narrative of the nation.
Hence it is more important to pay attention to the words of CPJ instead of the demand. They have criticised the bill in strong tones and have succinctly highlighted the cumulative danger posed by the bill. Saying “the bill has many vague and over-broad provisions that authorities could easily abuse to censor critical speech and reporting and to threaten and target journalists”
Coming from and independent source, this assessment must factor in our future conduct.