Statement against the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022

Saturday, February 26, 2022: The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has serious reservations on the promulgation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022 as it is incompatible with the fundamental human right to the freedom of speech and expression – a right enshrined within Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, and protected under various international agreements to which Pakistan is a party. Further, such enactment through an Ordinance without consultation with the relevant stakeholders vitiates the democratic process.

NCHR welcomes the order by Islamabad High Court to hold off on making arrests under Section 20 of the Ordinance, and appreciates the role of the judiciary in ensuring freedom of speech. Section 20 of PECA criminalises defamation, and the newly added sub section (1-A) of Section 20 extends the right to lodge a complaint to any member of the public even if they are not defamed. The amendment also defines “persons” to include “any company, association or body of persons whether incorporated or not, institutions, organisations, authority or any other body established by the government”. The use of vague language and broad definitions leaves room for the misapplication of the law to restrict political discourse and dissent, both of which are integral to a functioning democracy.

NCHR strongly believes that the freedom of the press is an inviolable right as it is necessary to inform and foster debate, and to hold public officials accountable for their policies and actions. Therefore, NCHR demands for an immediate repeal of the Ordinance.