Spreading fake news now a non-bailable offence: Minister

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Says no one will be exempt from spreading ‘fake news’; President signs PECA, elections amendment ordinances

President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (Peca) as federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh warned that no one would be exempt from indulging in “fake news”.

The development comes a day after the federal cabinet gave approval for a presidential ordinance to amend the Peca, 2016.

The ordinance has been called the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022 and “shall come into fore at once”.

An amendment has been made in Section 20 of Peca, increasing the jail term for defaming any person or institution from three years to five years.

Further, the complainant has been defined as the aggrieved person, his authorised representative, his guardian in case he is a minor or “a member of the public in respect of a public figure or a holder of public office”. Online public defamation has also been made a progress report of any pending trial to the high court concerned and give reasons for the inability of the court to expeditiously conclude the trial. “In case the high court finds the reasons given by the court under sub-section (2) to be plausible … it may accept the explanation of the court, and prescribe fresh timelines for the conclusion of a trial.”

On the other hand, if the high court acknowledged “difficulties, hindrances, and obstacles for concluding a trial expeditiously, which are removable by the federal or provincial government or any of its officers […] it shall call upon the federal or provincial government or any of its officers to remove such obstacles.”

It stated that where the Ministry of Law and Justice secretary of the provincial secretaries of the same ministry were of the opinion that the delay in the disposal of the trial was attributable to a presiding officer or any of its functionaries, “it shall furnish such information to the high court concerned, proposing suitable action.”

It added that the high court could order disciplinary action against the presiding officer or any of the court’s functionaries if they were found to be responsible for the delay in the disposal of the trial. “The chief justice of every high court shall also nominate a judge along with other officers from the court for acting under this section,” it concluded.

Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Federal Minister for Law and Justice Barrister Farogh Naseem on Sunday said that spreading fake news is now a non-bailable offence with five-year sentence as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act has been amended.

Farogh Naseem said PECA and Election Act have been amended; however, reiterated that the government believes in the freedom of expression but only want to end the spread of fake news. He further said that the trial of the suspect nabbed under PECA will have to be completed in six months and the subordinate court will be accountable to the high court judge over failure to complete the trial of electronic crimes within this period.

Talking about changes in Elections Act, the minister said that after the amendment anyone including lawmakers will be allowed to run election campaigns.

The minister said the complainant can seek defamation and criminal proceedings against the accused since now it has become a cognisable offence.

According to Naseem, the government amended the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to penalise fake news as “lies cannot be allowed to become the foundation of a society.”

He said the fake news are spread at the behest of foreign powers, particularly India, in a bid to create instability in Pakistan.

 

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