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Cybercrime bill: Politicians voice fears over stifling of freedoms




A groundswell of opposition has developed over the cybercrime bill with virtually all political groupings announcing their intention to oppose the current draft when it is tabled in the National Assembly, citing it as a threat to the freedom of expression.

Several parties including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) are upset over not being made part of consultations at the time of the bill’s drafting.

Though the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 was passed by the NA Standing Committee on Information Technology & Telecommunications earlier this year, it has not been presented before the NA for approval.

The Express Tribune discussed the controversial bill with different political leaders, all of whom supported the necessity of such a law, but they said that no fundamental right should be violated because of it.

“There are many lacunae in the proposed cybercrime law which need to be addressed seriously,” said MNA Nafisa Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). She complained about the content of the current draft, saying that it could have grave repercussions on the youngsters. “The PPP is not against having such a law, but we are not satisfied with a few of its clauses that are meant to deprive the people of their right of freedom of speech.”

Nafisa said her party would ‘strongly oppose’ the newly proposed law when it is presented during the NA session.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar also sought a bill that does not violate the fundamental rights of the citizens. “We shall voice our concerns over the government’s efforts to snatch the people’s right to express their thoughts freely.”

Supporting the need for a cybercrime bill, MNA Asad Umar of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said his party would oppose the current draft if it contains the same lacunae pointed out earlier. “We cannot support the government providing sweeping powers to the Federal Investigation Agency to hold people accountable for expressing their thoughts.”

Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Farooq Sattar said his party had the same reservations as Farieha Aziz, director of advocacy group Bolo Bhi, does. “We shall strongly oppose it in the NA.”

Meanwhile, JI Deputy Secretary General Dr Fareed Ahmed Paracha said his party was not approached for feedback while the bill was drafted and amended. “No one has the right to restrict the people from expressing their views or to punish them for doing so.” He suggested moral restrictions on freedom of speech but not legal limitations.

JUI-F Sindh Deputy Information Secretary Muhammad Aslam Ghauri said that though his party is an ally of the government, it was consulted while the bill was drafted. He, however, supported the government’s move to introduce a law to protect the people against cybercrimes. “I shall be in a position to comment on the proposed bill once I go through a copy of the amended draft.”

If the JUI-F has reservations over the draft, the party would oppose them in the NA until they are addressed, added Ghauri.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government would hear all the concerns of the political parties and try to address valid reservations. “However, criticism for the sake of criticism will not be acknowledged.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2015.

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