11/07/2008, 00.00
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Islamabad, internet law sets death penalty for cyber-terrorists

by Qaiser Felix
The government has approved a measure against electronic crimes, in order to confront cyber-terrorism. The law includes a long list of activities involving the internet and computers. Penalties range from the death penalty to imprisonment with stiff fines. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan decries the easy recourse to capital punishment.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "Whoever commits the offence of cyber terrorism and causes death of any person shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and with fine and in any other case he shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine not less than ten-million rupees [more than 96,000 euros], or with both." Thus reads the text of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2008, approved yesterday, September 7, by the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

Considered in effect as of September 29, the ordinance specifies that "any person, group or organization who, with terroristic intent utilizes, accesses or causes to be accessed a computer or computer network or electronic system or electronic device or by any available means, and thereby knowingly engages in or attempts to engage in a terroristic act commits the offence of cyber terrorism."

The expression "terroristic intent" contained in the text includes actions "with the purpose to alarm, frighten, disrupt, harm, damage, or carry out an act of violence against any segment of the population, the government or entity associated therewith."

The expression "terroristic act" "includes, but is not limited to stealing or copying, or attempting to steal or copy, or secure classified information or data necessary to manufacture any form of chemical, biological or nuclear weapon, or any other weapon of mass destruction."

The law also establishes that it is forbidden to use electronic means (including the internet and e-mail) "with intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person uses computer, computer network, internet, network site, electronic mail or any other similar means of communication to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, picture or image." According to the text, there are many cases to be considered acts of "cyber stalking." These include "to make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature; threaten any illegal or immoral act; take or distribute pictures or photographs of any person without his consent or knowledge; or display or distribute information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to any other person."

There is a long list of acts that can be carried out using the internet and computers which the new law considers subject to punishment. The penalties range from 3-7 years in prison, and fines that vary depending on the seriousness of the act.

"This Ordinance extends to the whole of Pakistan," the text reads, "and it shall apply to  every person who commits an offence under this Ordinance irrespective of his nationality or citizenship whatsoever or in any place outside or inside Pakistan, having detrimental effect on the security of Pakistan or its nationals or national harmony or any property or any electronic system or data located in Pakistan or any electronic system or data capable of being connected, sent to, used by or with any electronic system in Pakistan."

The fact that the ordinance contemplates the execution of those found guilty of "cyber terrorism" has revived discussions of the death penalty in the country. Last month, the government was urged by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to pass a moratorium on executions until the definitive abolition of the death penalty in the country.

The director of the commission, Asma Jahangir, has noted that despite the defense of the death penalty as the best deterrent to the spread of violence and corruption, the systematic and generalized recourse to it has not brought an improvement in law and order in the country. Today, Pakistan is among the leading countries in the world for the number of prisoners condemned to death, with about 7,000.

On the occasion of the world day against the death penalty, last October 10, the HRCP had affirmed in a document that Pakistan was taking the initiative to proceed with abolition. Today, the commission highlights the fact that death sentences and executions continue, while it is well known and well documented that there are deficiencies in the law, the judicial system, the investigative methods of the police, and chronic and widespread corruption, in addition to the prejudice and harassment directed against women and religious minorities.

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