ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Husain has said a law has been sent to the federal cabinet for approval to make insulting people on social media a “punishable offense.”
The government of Pakistan has previously tried to roll out new Internet rules that critics say will give the government-wide powers of censorship. The government denies it wants to censor the press or political opponents.
“Under the law, defaming people on social media has been made a punishable offense, with courts required to make a decision within six months,” Husain said on Twitter.
Law Minister Farogh Naseem said on Sunday that under the new proposed law, insulting people on social media will be a non-bailable offense.
“Now jail term will be five years rather than three years and [spreading fake news] will be non-bailable offense,” Naseem said.
“There will be no exception, this will be applicable to all,” he said, adding people could criticize policies and public figures while remaining within the constitutional ambit, but there should be no ‘fake news’ to malign anyone.
“It is not contradictory to article 19 [freedom of expression] of the constitution, no provision of law allows to propagate fake news,” Naseem said, clarifying the amendments were not meant to favor the “elite class.”
Senator Sherry Rehman, a member of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), criticized amendments in cybercrime laws.
“In its bid to shut down dissent even further the government is using another presidential ordinance to amend cybercrime laws that will be sweeping and draconian in scope,” she said in a tweet. “Make no mistake, this is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predations; quite the opposite.”
Under regulations that were approved by the cabinet in 2020 but have been made into law yet, social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful.
Companies that do not comply with the rules risk being blocked online.
The new rules on social media are described by the authors as intended to prevent live streaming of online content relating to “terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.”
Social media companies will be obliged within 24 hours to respond to a request to remove “unlawful” material, or six hours in emergency cases. They will have three months to register with authorities in Pakistan, and must have a physical presence in Pakistan.
When required, the companies will be required to provide subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data that is sought, the regulations stipulate.
The rules also state that interpretations of the regulations by the authorities in Pakistan “shall take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a social media company.”