The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists on Tuesday submitted a petition in the Islamabad High Court against the federal government's recently promulgated Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Amendment Ordinance, 2022.
The writ petition was filed under Article 199 of the Constitution and the President, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage were made respondents in the case.
The petition notes how the amendments in the PECA Act. Section 2, 23 and 40 of the Act have been amended, while Section 44A has been inserted in the Ordinance.
Referring to Article 19 of the Constitution, the petition stated: "The Constitutional Scheme of Pakistan calls for democratic values to be promoted in the country which include the Freedom of Expression.
"This new amendment ordinance lays bare the agenda of the government to promote only certain types of news and discourage criticism," it read.
The PFUJ is a union and representative of journalists & media persons across the country and their entire work and purpose revolves around information and broadcasting of the facts and opinions through print and electronic media.
According to the petition, the PFUJ was directly aggrieved with the promulgation of the said ordinance, considering the nature of the work it does.
Stating the grounds on which the petition was filed, it said: "The ordinance has been promulgated without passing the necessary tests imposed under the constitution of Pakistan for legislation through the mode and manner of Ordinances.
"The Promulgation of the ‘Ordinance’ is based on malice and required conditions have not been met by the respondents. The Senate remained in session till February 17 and the Ordinance was published only two days after the said session expired. The Session of the National Assembly was scheduled for February 18 which was called off at the eleventh hour and by doing so the respondents have promulgated the ordinance with deliberate intent in order to avoid the due process of legislation."
It added: "No emergency situations had arisen which called for issuance of an ordinance of this nature ... the urgency shown by the respondents clearly depict the ulterior motives of the respondents given the recent situation whereby the journalists were illegally arrested under the same offence which this ordinance has amended to make them harsh."
Through the Ordinance, "the respondents have tried to criminalize the civil wrong already defined and available under the law".
It further stated: "The removal of Proviso in the section 20 of the act clearly indicates that the Government intends to muzzle the media for which a law and regulatory body (PEMRA) is in place."
Talking about the insertion of Section 44-A in the Act by the ordinance, the petition said it "goes against the constitutional freedom of the Judiciary" and "the respondents have intended to harass and coerce the Judicial officers at will by imposing such restrictions over the Presiding officers of the court".
The PFUJ in the petition also expressed concerns over criminalizing the free speech in the country, stating "it is ironic that the government is moving towards criminalization of the free speech at a time when the entire world is moving towards de-criminalizing defamation."
The petition was filed in the IHC by Supreme Court Advocate Adil Aziz Qazi and High Court Advocate Haseeb Hassan on behalf of the petitioner, PFUJ.