01/23/2008, 00.00
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New communications law, new tool for censorship

by Qaiser Felix
A month from the elections Pakistan’s caretaker government issues an ordinance that imposes the death penalty or life in prison for cyber crimes. But the text of the law is so vague that sending a simple e-mail might be construed as a crime.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government has issued a new ordinance to prevent cyber crimes some of which can be punished with death or life in prison. Media and civil society organisations have criticised the new legislation calling it another attack on freedom of expression and on freedom of the press.

The law, which was adopted in secret and is retroactive to 31 December 2007, encompasses 18 offences that carry severe punishments.

For caretaker Minister for Information Technology Abdullah Riar it is however a significant step forward in fighting crime and encouraging e-commerce in the country.

But Peter Jacob begs to differ. For the executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, the human rights agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, “this bill is a restriction on media and electronic communication. Under this legislation it will be very problematic to send SMS or e-mails. They will become a crime.”

For him the “secret rush by the caretaker government to approve the ordinance is baseless since we will have a new government in a month time.”

“Unfortunately,” he told AsiaNews, “the government has bad advisers and for this reason it adopted a bad law at a bad time.”

According to Pakistan’s National Journalists’ Forum, “this law will negatively affect the right of the people to have access to information and their freedom of expression. The fact that it was adopted by an illegitimate government a month before the elections makes it another tool of censorship.”

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