2 Dozen Pak Scribes Prosecuted For Criticising Military, Intel Agencies

New Delhi: Around two dozen journalists in Pakistan were charged in the last two years and most of them were prosecuted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, said a report of the Freedom Network, launched on the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, The News reported.

The Freedom Network 2021 Impunity Report provides insights about the challenges faced by journalists and information practitioners in Pakistan charged under the PECA, the arbitrary exercise of power by the authorities and the response of the justice system, the report said.

The Section 20, which criminalises online defamation, and carries a three-year jail term, and up to one million rupees in fine, is the most frequently invoked section of the PECA against journalists.

“Opinions or criticism of the military and the intelligence agencies is the most frequent complaint against journalists pursued under the PECA. Criticism in general – whether against the executive (both civilian and military) or the judiciary triggered the most complaints against journalists pursued under the PECA law. The prime nature of the complaint was alleged defamation,” it reads. Majority of the journalists were from Pakistan Punjab.

Iqbal Khattak, the executive director of Freedom Network, said Pakistani journalists are increasingly using online spaces to share independent news and critical commentary that are suppressed on traditional media. “We have noticed a corresponding increase in efforts to control online expression, either legally or through coordinated digital campaigns against journalists,” he said. The report supplies evidence that the PECA has emerged as the primary legal instrument to intimidate and silence Pakistani journalists in recent years because it criminalises online expression.

The report’s findings are based on the analysis of cases of 23 journalists and information practitioners who were either sent notices by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under PECA or charged with offences under the same law during the period 2019-21. The analysis was done on data, provided by these journalists and information practitioners through a special impunity measurement template, based on the comprehensive Impunity Index developed by the Freedom Network.

The analysis found that the cases were registered against 56 per cent of journalists and informational practitioners who had a brush with the PECA between 2019 and 2012. Out of the individuals who were formally charged, around 70 per cent were arrested and half of them were subjected to torture in custody.