Questions of free speech are being raised after Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill despite widespread opposition from civil rights activists and some members of Parliament. This restrictive bill, which has been criticized for violating human rights, was submitted to the National Assembly for voting during January 2015 by the Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rahman Khan. A draft of the cybercrime bill was then cleared by the standing committee in September before being forwarded to the assembly for final approval.
According to critics the bill would criminalize activities like sending text messages without the receiver’s consent or criticizing Government actions or policies on social media. All of these conducts would be punished with fines and long-term incarceration. As a consequence of this regulation online criticism of religion, the country, its courts and the armed forced are among subjects which could invoke official intervention and punishment under the bill. This bill need to approved also by Senate before it can be signed as a law.
These are some of the features of the Bill:
- Up to five-year imprisonment, Rs (Pakistani Rupees) 10 million ($95,000) fine or both for hate speech, or trying to create disputes and spread hatred on the basis of religion or sectarianism;
- Up to five-year imprisonment, Rs 5 million ($47,700) fine or both for transferring or copying sensitive basic information;
- Up to Rs 50,000 ($477) fine for sending messages irritating to others or for marketing purposes;
- Up to three-year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 500,000 ($4,777) for creating a website for negative purposes;
- Up to one-year imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs 1 million ($9,500) for forcing an individual into immoral activity, or publishing an individual’s picture without consent, sending obscene messages or unnecessary cyber interference;
- Up to seven-year imprisonment, a fine of Rs 10 millions or both for interfering in sensitive data information systems.