The government of Pakistan has introduced a new cybercrime law that can get social media users jailed for up to five years for posting “fake news” about the military, judiciary or public officials. The maximum penalty has been set at five years and suspects won’t be granted bail, meaning the accused will await trial in jail.
As per critics, the legislation is representative of creeping restrictions on freedom of expression in the nation. It is noteworthy that Pakistan is ranked amongst the world’s most dangerous for media workers.
The legislation was approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Cabinet and immediately adopted into law by President. The legislation has come into effect immediately but it has to be presented to Parliament within 90 days for approval. It is expected that Mr. Khan’s coalition government will easily pass it.
In recent years the space for dissent in Pakistan has shrunk with government’s cracking down on social networks and traditional media outlets, leading to self-censorship.
“It will … inevitably be used to clamp down on dissenters and critics of the government and state institutions,” said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which called the legislation “undemocratic”. The law amends existing defamation rules forbidding false online information that “intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy” of an individual. It broadens the scope to include “any company, association or body of persons” and “institution, organisation, authority or any other body established by the government”.