Two dozen Pak journalists prosecuted under PECA in two years

November 02, 2021

According to a Freedom Network report released on the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, approximately two dozen journalists have been charged in the last two years, with the majority of them prosecuted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. The most frequently invoked section of the PECA against journalists is Section 20, which criminalizes online defamation and carries a three-year jail term and a fine of up to one million rupees.

The most common complaint filed against journalists under the PECA is their opinions or criticism of the military and intelligence agencies. Criticism in general – whether directed at the executive (civilian and military) or the judiciary – resulted in the greatest number of complaints filed against journalists under the PECA law. “The primary focus of the complaint was alleged defamation,” it says. The majority of the journalists were Punjabi.The findings of the report are based on an examination of the 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 between 2019 and 21. The analysis was performed on data provided by these journalists and information practitioners using a special impunity measurement template based on the Freedom Network’s comprehensive Impunity Index.

According to the analysis, 56 percent of journalists and information professionals who had a run-in with the PECA between 2019 and 2012 had cases filed against them. Around 70% of those who were formally charged were arrested, and half of them were tortured in detention. The Freedom Network 2021 Impunity Report provides insights into the challenges faced by journalists and information practitioners in Pakistan charged under the PECA, as well as the authorities’ arbitrary exercise of power and the justice system’s response.Key findings indicate that Punjab is the most dangerous region for journalists when it comes to being targeted under the PECA, with 10 of the 23 reported cases coming from the province; Islamabad came in second with eight cases. In terms of complainants, two-thirds are private citizens, with opinions or criticism of the military and intelligence agencies being the most frequently pursued complaint under the PECA.

Almost half of all journalists formally charged under PECA law and other laws were arrested; two-thirds of all arrested journalists were able to secure bail after their arrest, but some had to spend time in custody ranging from a few days to several weeks. Journalists working for traditional media or as freelancers are nearly equally likely to be targeted under the PECA; more than a third of those targeted have their own YouTube channels.Over half of journalists served with FIA notices under PECA did not challenge them in court, and thus have no legal recourse to justice. A third of the journalists used the legal system to challenge the FIA’s notification.

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