Karachi

Experts term cybercrime bill ‘a gag on free speech’

KARACHI: Speakers at an interactive dialogue held at the Karachi Press Club on Monday rejected the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 in its present form and expressed their apprehensions that enactment of such a harsh law would go against the fundamental rights and freedom of speech.

They said the bill had been specifically designed to forestall criticism against the government and it would be misused by the authorities against opponents.

The dialogue was organised by the Karachi Press Club.

It may be mentioned that the National Assembly’s standing committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication has already approved the controversial bill. Now the government plans to table the bill in the National Assembly.

Legal experts and media persons highlighted their concerns on the proposed law which by any means is considered to be a draconian law aimed at gagging the voice of dissent and free speech. It also tramples on the provincial rights and right to information and other precious fundamental rights.

Speaking on the occasion, Senator Taj Haider said it seemed any dictatorial regime was enacting such a dangerous law. “The bill did not seem to be drafted by any democratic government”.

He said that emails between him and Benazir Bhutto were also intercepted and his emails never reached the late leader’s inbox and he used to receive back emails with a message that “email not delivered”.

“This law is handiwork of some secret agencies and the present government of the PML-N wants to give it a legal cover,” Mr Haider lamented. Mr Haider suggested that emails should be monitored but only after a court order and there should be a reasonable doubt about the stuff and the authorities should not have right to violate citizens’ privacy.

Barrister Zamir Ghumro said the criminal administration was a provincial subject and only the provinces can legislate on the issue because information technology was not a part of federal legislative list.

“The enactment of the law by the federal government would be violation of provincial jurisdiction,” Mr Ghumro said.

“The bill is an effort to usurp the provincial power of legislation on the subject of nabbing electronic crime, a subject not specifically mentioned in the federal legislative list”.

“The whole scheme of the federal government is to centralise the ministry of information and establish courts which can only be said grabbing of provincial legislative and administrative powers,” he said.

Barrister Zahid Jamil stated that the bill as it currently stands does not address cybercrime: the provisions which deal with cybercrime under the Stakeholder Bill have been deleted and replaced with offences which deal with content and the bill is also missing procedures for investigation and prosecution of cybercrime domestically as well as powers for international cooperation. “We reject the bill as it currently stands and urge the National Assembly to send the same for review by the Standing Committee and legal and technical experts on cybercrime”.

Senior journalist Nazir Leghari said the PML-N government had already opposed the law when it was in the opposition.

Mazhar Abbas said that there was a need for a cyber crimes law but the bill in its present form would be grossly misused against the media.

He expressed serious apprehension about the bill saying it would be selective and used against critics of the governments.

Senior journalist Omar R. Quraishi, KPC president Fazil Jamili, KPC secretary A. H. Khanzada and others also spoke on the occasion.

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