Wednesday, April 13, 2016, marked a black day in Pakistan’s history. The National Assembly passed the regressive version of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015.
Last year, the law was made in haste and ignored a three year long working of the major stakeholders because the caretakers wanted to hide corruption and wrongdoings altogether. For them, beautiful were the days when only Pakistan Television was on air and acted as per the instructions of the supreme. Today, social media and mobile communication applications have turned things around. Fraudulent cases, abuse of power, corruption and wrongdoings on every level are exposed without much control of the government. This has haunted the present regime significantly and left no room to curtail negative image marketing.
The draconian bill is utterly preposterous as several clauses implicate innocent citizens in criminal cases. For example, one such is the Clause 22 of the bill that declares “sending messages without the recipient’s permission” a criminal act. The accused can face three months incarceration and up to one million in fine. This should be a minor offence and imprisonment is a harsh punishment.
Also read: The Cybercrime Bill ignores digital freedom
Furthermore, many clauses are too vague, and penalties are harsher than more severe crimes on the streets. Hardcore criminals are roaming around freely on the roads of Pakistan while the government is more concerned about arresting writers, bloggers, journalists, storytellers and active internet users because of their opinions against the authorities. Anything written against the government, its allies or something that creates a discussion not favouring the ruling elite can make anyone a criminal. Freedom of speech is being limited to households and private gatherings. If you are looking for a turnaround in the fortunes of Pakistan, then look no further because it isn’t happening. Democracy has remained a word abused by those in power and our absolute unwillingness to fight for our rights is the biggest reason that today our freedom of speech will be compromised.
Although there are no two thoughts on the legislation to curb cyber crime, but it does not mean that fundamental human rights are violated such as freedom of speech that conflicts with the constitution of Pakistan. The current bill passed by the National Assembly gives an open invitation to the authorities to misuse it, and civil liberties to be compromised in the name of the law.
What is most shocking is the law was passed by 30 members, 9% of the National Assembly strength that were present on the day in the 342-member house. The civil society heavily criticises the bill, but unfortunately, with opposition members failing to ensure their presence in significant numbers the bill will now be presented to the Senate for approval. The bill can only come into existence if after Senate approval the President of Pakistan signs it to turn it into a firm law. Until then we can just hope that sense prevails, and the Senate blocks the bill as it puts over 30 million internet users at risk.