Pakistan’s National Assembly (NA) has approved a draconian cybercrime bill named “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015” that will make it illegal for anybody to criticize the government on social media.
The controversial bill punishes those “sending text messages without notifying the receiver” or “criticizing government actions on social media.”
The proposed bill would criminalize internet activity, stifle its growth and damage the economy while inducing an atmosphere of fear.
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The restrictive bill has been criticized by the IT industry and civil society for violating human rights and harming business in the future. According to critics, it contains several deeply problematic clauses that are open to misinterpretation.
The document criminalizes activities such as sending text messages without the receiver’s agreement or speaking out against the government’s actions or religion on social media. For these actions people would be fined and jailed. Online criticism of the country, its courts and the armed forces are among subjects which could call on official interference under the bill.
The most extraordinary features of the bill are:
- up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of 10 mln Pakistani rupees (PKR) ($95,000), or both, for hate speech, or trying to create disputes and spread hatred on the basis of religion or sectarianism;
- up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to PKR 5 mln ($47,500) or both for transferring or copying sensitive basic information;
- up to PKR 50,000 fine ($475) for sending messages irritating to others or for marketing purposes. If the crime is repeated, the punishment would be three months’ jail and a fine of up to PKR 1 mln ($9,500);
- up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 500,000 ($4,750) for creating a website with negative intent;
- up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to PKR 1 mln ($9,500) for forcing an individual into immoral activity, or publishing an individual’s picture without their consent, sending obscene messages or unnecessary cyber interference;
- up to three years in jail and a fine of up to PKR 500,000 ($4,750) for issuing a sim-card in an unauthorized manner;
- up to three years in jail and a fine of up to PKR 1 mln ($9,500) for making changes in a wireless set or a cell phone;
- up to three years in jail and a fine of up to PKR 1 mln ($9,500) for spreading false information about an individual.
A draft of the cybercrime bill was submitted to the NA for voting in January 2015 by Pakistan’s Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication, Anusha Rahman.
Then it was cleared by the standing committee in September before being forwarded to the assembly for final approval.
The bill must also be approved by Senate before it can be signed into law.
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