Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed: Serb news tv On Saturday, the federal cabinet approved a presidential decree amending the Electronic Crime Prevention Act (Peca) of 2016.
He said approval for the ordinance was obtained through circulation.
The minister said the amendment would declare defamation of an individual on social media a punishable offense and the courts would have to issue a verdict within six months on cases registered with Peca.
Chaudhry also shared this in a tweet, saying he had sought federal cabinet approval for the amendment.
Peca was passed by the National Assembly in 2016 amid protests from the opposition.
The then-government-affiliated PML-N used a majority to nullify the controversial bill. Meanwhile, opposition parties have criticized bills that give the administration comprehensive powers that can be abused by anyone and further restrict freedom of expression in the country.
The bill states that parody or satire-based websites and social media accounts can be prosecuted for ‘counterfeiting’, which makes it a crime to operate a website or send information to ‘counterfeit sources’. It has also authorized Federal Investigation Agency officials to unlock computers, cell phones or other devices that may be needed for crime or criminal investigation purposes, and that defamation will be treated as a punishable crime. said.
In November 2020, the Tehreek-i-Insaf government of Pakistan enacted a social media law under Peca which was criticized by digital rights activists, Pakistani Internet service providers and the Asian Internet Alliance.
The tech companies also threaten to shut down services in Pakistan unless the rules are revised, stating that the rules make it difficult to continue operations.
This rule has also been challenged by the Islamabad High Court (IHC). In one of the hearings on the petition, the Attorney General assured the IHC that the government was ready to review the rules.
In March 2021, Prime Minister Imran Khan formed an inter-ministerial committee to review controversial social media rules.
The committee prepared regulations by August and passed the Cabinet Legislative Notice Committee on September 23rd.
The Federal Cabinet approved the amendments to the Digital Media Regulations on September 29, and the Ministry of Information and Communications announced it on November 14.
Pursuant to the Removal and Blocking (Procedures, Supervision and Protection) Rules of Illegal Online Content, 2021, telecommunications regulators in their country may block a website or platform, subject to court and federal directives, or in accordance with any law.
In a statement issued at the time, IT and Telecommunications Minister Aminul Haque said the rules require social media companies to comply with Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.
He said live streaming of extremist, terrorist, hateful, obscene and violent content would be banned and “social media companies would be held responsible for removing content that goes against Pakistan’s integrity and defense.”
The rules will also punish the spread of “immoral and obscene content,” Haque said.
“No negative content about any individual will be uploaded,” Haque said, adding that uploads of anyone’s private life would also be banned.
Other items prohibited under the amended rules include “content contrary to Pakistan’s cultural and moral tendencies” and content that “destroys” morals and may harm a child’s mental and physical development.
The minister said the rules would apply to all social media outlets, including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Google. He added that the social media company should set up an office in Pakistan “as soon as possible” after the notice was issued.
Social media companies have been asked to register with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) within three months of the law’s enforcement and to appoint a certified compliance officer and grievance officer based in Pakistan within the same period. These officers must deal with the complaint within 7 working days.
The rule also directs social media companies to establish offices in Pakistan, preferably Islamabad, “as far as possible and when possible” under the direction of the PTA. Previously, there was a stipulation that a company had to set up an office within nine months.
Internet companies have also criticized the amendment, noting that the most problematic provisions remain in the latest draft.