Law Minister Farogh Naseem on Sunday said the prison sentence for spreading fake news has been increased from three years to five years, while the offence has also been made non-bailable.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi, the law minister said the complainant can seek defamation and criminal proceedings against the accused since now it has become a cognisable offence.
According to Naseem, the government amended the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to penalise fake news as “lies cannot be allowed to become the foundation of a society.”
He said the fake news are spread at the behest of foreign powers, particularly India, in a bid to create instability in Pakistan.
The minister also referred to the news report against an alleged rift between Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi, and said “this law will put an end to such news reports.”
According to the law minister, a judge will be bound to decide cases pertaining to fake news within six months. In case the judge failed to adjudicate in the given time, a letter will be sent to the respective high court chief justice to seek an explanation from the judge, he added.
In response to a question, Naseem said the amendments in the PECA law or Article 19 of the Constitution were not unconstitutional as the only purpose of this law was to curb fake news.
The ordinance criminalises defamation against civil and military institutions, as well as public office-holders.
In another ordinance drafted by PM’s aide Babar Awan, the government amended the Election Act 2017 to allow parliamentarians to take part in election campaigns.
This law will allow lawmakers and others to visit and address public gatherings during election campaigns, which was earlier banned under the election code of conduct.
A day earlier, the federal cabinet approved both ordinances amid criticism that the government wanted to stifle freedom of expression through such laws.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman lambasted the government for bypassing parliament to pass these laws.
She said the government amended the Elections Act to give the “ministers the unprecedented ability to issue state resources for campaigning for the elections while in office”.
Rehman also grilled the government over the PECA amendments.
“In its bid to shut down dissent even further the gov[ernment]t is using another presidential ordinance to amend cybercrime laws that will be sweeping and draconian in scope. Make no mistake, this is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predations; quite the opposite,” she added.