Parliamentarians, on Wednesday, opposed the proposed amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, by bringing blasphemy and pornography within the ambit of the cybercrime law.
However, they recommended the inclusion of extradition clauses for bringing those who are involved in blasphemy online i.e. by using the internet, social media, phone, etc, to book and proceed against them as allowed in the UN Charter.
The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication met with Senator Rubina Khalid in the chair on Wednesday to consider the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
However, even before starting the discussion on the proposed legislation, committee members objected that Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, the mover of the bill, was not present in the meeting.
Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri viewed the amendment as a move to weaken the blasphemy law. He said that blasphemy law is already there and what is the need to bring it under the cybercrime law.
According to the proposed legislation, whoever falsely accuses anyone of the offense – blasphemy (provided for in sections 27C or 27D) – shall upon declaration by the court that such accusation was false, be punished with the same punishment. This provision has been proposed in view of the increasing incidence of false accusations of blasphemy against anyone with whom one has a score to settle, as recently witnessed in the Mashaal Khan case.
However, Haideri said that it is a move to weaken the blasphemy law as even if a person knows about someone who has committed blasphemy, the former would not reveal the latter’s name, adding it is feared that any person may kill the alleged blasphemer instead of taking the matter to court. He further said that then the same legislation may be proposed for other crimes like killing, etc, as even despite having evidence, many people lose cases in courts, asking if the heirs would be killed in such cases.
Haideri walked out of the committee and announced to resist the proposed law at any level i.e. the Senate, National Assembly and even on roads.
Senator Rehman Malik said that blasphemy law exists in the country, but there is a need to strengthen it. However, he said that it should not be covered under the cybercrime laws. Malik said there is a need to introduce extradition clauses in the cybercrime law only for those who use internet, social media, mobile phone, etc, for blasphemy while sitting in other countries to bring them and proceed against them.
He said that Pakistan is a member country of the UN and legislation should be made to proceed against the persons involved in blasphemy to the extent the UN Charter allows.
Justice Raza Shah (retd) informed the committee that the amendment bill was moved in the compulsion of the Islamabad High Court order. The ministry has moved the bill only to fulfill the court order.
Later the committee meeting was postponed due to the absence of IT minister and it was decided to hold in-camera meetings keeping the sensitivity of the matter in view.
A writ petition was filed by Salman Shahid before the Islamabad High Court, stating that five persons had been hosting Facebook pages with inflammatory and blasphemous material against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions with bad titles.
The petitioner sought direction for blocking such pages in social media which contain blasphemous words and videos against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The high court, after hearing the petitioner, directed the concerned authorities including PTA and FIA to remove and block such pages and take strict legal action against the alleged persons. In order to settle this issue permanently, the court while hearing the matter, directed the attorney general for Pakistan to appear personally and assist the court on March 31, 2017. Meanwhile, the attorney general had moved a note to the Prime Minister and proposed to constitute an inter–ministerial committee headed by the federal minister of law & justice and comprising officials from Ministry of Interior, Ministry of IT and MoRA. The Prime Minister approved the said proposal.
The court was also apprised by the attorney general regarding the submission of the said note. The court disposed of the petitions vide its short order dated 31-03-2017 and issued the following directions:
“Since learned attorney general has already taken an initiative with regards to insertion of “blasphemy” and “pornography” in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and also to address the issue of penal consequences of false accusation of blasphemy, it is expected that authorities concerned shall proceed in the matter by appreciating the delicacy of the issue to take some appropriate steps within one month from today i.e. 31.03.2017.
The court, while reviewing the implementation of its detailed judgment dated 11.08.2017, reviewed the draft of the proposed amendments on 16.02.2018 and observed:
There is material progress, as final draft for bringing amendments in “in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016” has been placed for perusal of this court apparently, draft covers all aspects, but it is for the legislature to deliberate, discuss and approve the amendments, which obviously are being proposed in compliance with judgment dated 31.03.2017 passed by this court. Since corresponding amendment in PPC is also required, therefore, Ministry of Law is directed to proceed accordingly.
On 22.12.2017, the court observed,
Blasphemy and pornography are required to be brought into the definition clause under section 2 of the PECA, 2016.
After approval by IMC on March 08, 2018, the Ministry of Information Technology, being the concerned ministry, forwarded the proposed amendments to PECA to the Law Division for vetting. After vetting by the Law Division, the draft was approved by the cabinet committee. Finally, after the cabinet’s approval on May 29, 2018, the bill was processed for placement in the Senate of Pakistan on August 6, 2018.