October 21, 2020

White Paper Offers Recommendations For PECA Reforms

Islamabad — The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 is in urgent need of reforms in order to protect the online expression, right to information, and digital privacy of Pakistani citizens, according to a new white paper about Pakistan’s anti-cybercrimes law.

The policy paper offers six key recommendations for lawmakers and other relevant stakeholders to bring about reforms in PECA through amendments and improved implementation. It calls for a multi-stakeholder review of PECA performance, a fresh push for amendments in the law, the de-criminalisation of online expression and defamation, and the removal of content regulation from PECA, among other suggestions.

According to the paper, the criminalisation of online speech through PECA has been misused to target and stifle online expression.

“International human rights law allows restrictions on expression that are necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose (and the) Courts can use this test to rule on the legality of online expression,” the paper states. “However, these should be civil remedies and should not include prison sentences that are often used as an intimidating tactic to compel citizens to self-censor their expression and opinions.”

The white paper also recommends removing Section 37, which allows the removal or blocking of online content, from PECA. It suggests online content regulation should be dealt with separately to ensure clarity and transparency in interpretation and protection of the right to freedom of expression.

The paper can be accessed at this link.

The white paper provides a review of the current local policy context related to Internet governance, including a discussion on the attitudes of legislators, judiciary, and the executive towards content regulation. It also shares the outline of legal amendments that could be introduced to make PECA better in terms of human rights protections.

The paper was co-published by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) and the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI). Jalil Babar, from CPDI, said the paper is expected to contribute to policy advocacy efforts for online freedom of expression in the country.

“The white paper is an attempt to articulate the legal and practical challenges witnessed during the past three years regarding PECA,” Babar said. “We hope its findings and recommendations will help multi-stakeholder efforts to review and improve the state of Internet governance in Pakistan.”

Waqas Naeem, a programme manager at MMfD who authored the white paper, said PECA is being used to target social media users, including journalists, for their online activity.

“Recent cases against journalists and individuals associated with the ‘Me Too’ movement in Pakistan have once again exposed the problems in PECA,” Naeem said. “The arbitrary use of this criminal law disregards public interest and attempts to silence critical voices at a time when the Internet is among the last few spaces left for independent expression in the Pakistani public sphere.”

Read the complete white paper on the MMfD website here.

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