islamabad - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed reservations over the cybercrime bill scheduled to be tabled in present session of the upper house. The PCEB’s adoption in its present form has immense ramifications for the practice of the constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, privacy, human rights and democracy in the country, HRCP said in a recent press statement.

The HRCP commends and takes pride in the vigorous struggle of civil society organisations and individuals who have dedicated their time and energy in highlighting contentious provisions of the proposed law and sharing recommendations and alternative formulations with the lawmakers in the National Assembly and later with the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications.

While we appreciate the committee for listening to the concerns of civil society on the matter, the government seems more interested in questioning the motives of civil society rather than appreciating their efforts, plugging loopholes and addressing flaws in the draft, it added. It said one of the main concerns regarding the PECB is that various offences already defined under the Pakistan Penal Code and other laws have been redefined under PECB often in conflict with other laws and almost always with harsher punishments and lenient processes. Several sections include vague and general formulations and contradictions. It is important to remove such provisions from the law.

Most alarmingly, it said the PECB grants unchecked and overbroad powers of censorship to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), an executive body directly under government control. However, a body with such extensive powers has to be made completely independent of government control, which is not the case with PTA. A particularly grave concern is the lack of safeguards and checks on exercise of authority by investigative agency and PTA under the draft law. Absence of judicial and/or parliamentary oversight of the PTA and the power at its disposal in implementing the law can lead to potential abuse of authority and misuse of the law.

It said the PECB contains various provisions that undermine or are in conflict with the various fundamental rights. Particularly, Sections 9, 18, 19, 22, 29, 34, 36 as well as several definitions of the Bill contain text that remains contrary to human rights and international best practices.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression has already expressed his concern over the PECB stating that “if adopted, the draft legislation could result in censorship of, and self-censorship by, the media”.

The proposed law, which will now be put to vote in the Senate, remains a thoroughly flawed measure, which includes certain sections that are so offensive that they would not be inserted into a law in any civilized society.

The HRCP seeks your support in preventing the PECB from becoming a law and cautions that allowing it to be adopted in its present form will place unbridled censorship powers in the hands of the authorities. Such curbs on citizens’ right to information, opinion and expression on the new medium, indeed a medium for the future, will not affect just the present citizenry but our future generations as well. We must not let our failings in improving and reforming the deeply flawed PECB to create hurdles and challenges for our coming generations, it added.