The Imran Khan-led Pakistan government has introduced an ordinance, clamping down on social media influencers, vloggers and journalists from spreading fake news against the authorities, state institutions and the military establishment.
Through a presidential ordinance under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2022, anyone who is found spreading fake news or criticising the state institutions, can face up to three to five years in jail with limited access to bail.
Law Minister Faroogh Naseem announced the move as pivotal and much needed amendment of laws on cybercrime, stating that no one should be exempted from the effort to eliminate the menace of fake news.
"Media is free to criticize but there should be no fake news," he said, adding: "Spreading fake news will be a non-bailable offense with up to six months imprisonment."
The move by the government has been declared as a dangerous overreach and undemocratic.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called the law imposed through presidential ordinance as "undemocratic".
In a statement, the HRCP condemned government's attempt to silence the much-needed criticism on the performance of the government and state institutions.
"It will also inevitably be used to clamp down on dissenters and critics of the government and state institutions."
The decision is also being marked as a deliberate assault against the freedom of expression, which is the basic right of every individual.
The opposition political parties have also slammed the government, questioning it for using the presidential ordinance and termed the new ordinance as "draconian".
"The amendment is not about protecting the vulnerable from cyber predations – quite the opposite," said Senator Sherry Rehman, a senior leader of the opposition political party Pakistan People Party (PPP).
The government has in the past come under the critical lens of analysts, journalists, social media influencers and the opposition parties, who have questioned the capabilities and competency of the government in policy making.
Moreover, the powerful military establishment of the country has also at times, come under criticism of supporting the government, even when the country continues to suffer because of what they called, failed policies and false promises of Prime Minister Khan.
The latest ordinance will certainly strengthen the institutional strength while also ensure protection from widespread criticism and defamation done by elements, who at times use fake news as their reliable source of information.