ISLAMABAD, 21 October 2017: In the wake of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s condemnation of crackdown against PML-N supporters on social media, sources within the Ministry of Information Technology confirm receiving complaints regarding misuse of Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, PECA 2017.
Talking to Media Matters for Democracy on condition of anonymity, a senior official within the ministry confirmed that there were many complaints regarding misuse of PECA in the absence of any safeguards. The official said that following the complaints, MoIT had held in a recent parliamentary committee’s session that every law could be misused.
“FIA and PTA are not following the proper and transparent procedure described in law”, he said, “For instance, before taking extreme steps of blocking the content and apprehending someone there are at least two steps to be followed, inquiry and intimation, that are not being followed”.
Lack of transparency in implementation
The crackdown against political workers active on social media and journalists has largely gone unreported and unexplained. Senator Farhatullah Babar, a member of the Senate’s standing committee on human rights, has publicly mentioned around 1000 cases have been under PECA, but details of these cases have been hard to come by.
While talking to Media Matters for Democracy, the MoIT official revealed that there was no proper oversight and system to ensure transparency. “Following the decision of disbanding inter-ministerial committee, IT Ministry has been excluded from the implementation process. Now even we don’t have any official record of action taken under PECA”, the official said.
Civil society fears coming true
Before the cybercrime bill was passed, civil society advocates had repeatedly warned the government of the possibility of such misuse. A petition submitted to the Senate by Media Matters for Democracy and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists noted that “The subjective nature of this bill will allow the government and its officials to crack down against journalists who seek, obtain and distribute officially suppressed information that can help make the government accountable”.
Recent developments, in particular, the interrogation and registration of cases against political workers active on social media, unfortunately, demonstrates that these fears initially dismissed by the Minister as ‘alarmist’ are now coming true.
“The role of civil society and media is crucial in such scenario to highlight discrimination and shortcomings in the implementation phase,” the MoIT official said, adding that the enforcement of the cyber law had become a contentious issue.
A. Khan is a senior journalist with more than 8 years of experience covering important issues within Political and IT beat. In the past, he had also worked with renowned English Newspapers including Express Tribune.