Pakistan: Funny SMS's may land Pakistanis in for a fourteen year prison sentence

A scare tactic by the Government of Pakistan

nr3c-monogramPakistans’ Minister of Interior Rehman Malik recently announced a 14-year prison sentence for anyone found propagating SMS and emails ridiculing or making fun of the present Pakistani leadership and its elected government officials.   The statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, referenced the Cyber Crime Act of 2009 which apparently would subject the violators to a prison sentence of at least 14-years.

It has been a long time, the Government of Pakistan has been trying to enforce a cyber crime law which since 2007, when it was first initially tabled in the form of a draft by the Ministry of Information and Technology. The then Cyber Crime Ordinance of 2007 was critically evaluated by the IT community and was found to be unfair, practically giving all encompassing powers to the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA), the local intellegence agency, to be the judge jury and executor with very minimal protection to any innocent bystanders who may become prey to any unwarranted political intentions.

The civil society in 2007 was in outcry over the cyber crime draft, holding many awareness seminars and discussion panel and were successful in pushing the Ministry to accept some serious revisions of the controversial document with the hope of bringing it under proper international standards as agreed upon during the Cyber Crimes Convention in Budapest 2001. In an extensive meeting with the stakeholders the Ministry of IT were then presented with a long list of problems and it was primarily suggest to rewrite the entire document rather then accede to a patch up of a grossly irregular document which differed significantly from internationally accepted norms

Suddenly on 31st December 2007, the then President of Pakistan, General Prevaiz Musharraf quietly signed the un-revised ‘first draft’ as an ordinance titling the new document as the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2007. An Ordinance according to the Constitutional of Pakistan [Article 89] is a presidential injunction to force a law into effect for a period of four months [120 days] and before its expiry the bill has to be presented on the floor of the Parliament for vetting and debate before potentially voting it into a full fledged law only after a 2/3rd majority vote, historically Presidents of Pakistan have used ordinances for political intentions and for the mere continuation of the law the President merely re-signs the ordinance every four months extending its life for another 120 days without taking the time or making an effort to put it before the legislative body

Since the start of this newly elected government, the local leadership, namely the President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Zardari and Minister of Interior Rehman Malik have been at the receiving end of some very hard hitting gutt wrenching jokes, which in turn have resulted in a massive propagation of SMS's and emails, not only in Pakistan but also across the world. The local leadership have also not helped stop this flame war as they themselves provided fuel-to-the-fire with one funny blunder after another, from the God-Gaad misspelling controversy in September 2008 [while signing a guest book President Asif Ali Zardari accidentally misspelled God as ‘Gaad’ and that turned out to be a serious cause of embarrassment for the President] or even the Sarah Palin gorgeous-n-hug comment in Washington [in an exclusive one-on-one meeting with Sarah Palin during her Vice-Presidential bid, Asif Zardari commented on Live TV to called her “gorgeous” and then goes on to flirt with Sarah Palin to say ‘if he’s insisting, I might hug’] such opportunities generally become the bane of all comical SMS's, emails and blog posts among Pakistanis

Seeing their local leadership at the base of many hard hitting jokes, the government decided to take such critical offenders to task. Here lies a very important problem, it is surprising to note that the Cyber Crime Act does even not exist, it is a fact that the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2007 ironically had no mention of any crime related to SMS's, let alone punish a person for sending funny SMS's which may tarnish the image of the an ‘unspecified’ local leadership, the maximum prison sentence in that 2007 bill for any cyber crime offense was set at a maximum of 7-years [10-years if it involved a minor].

Initially when the Minister of Interior announced the 14 year sentence people were shocked and taken aback, as it was assumed that the Pakistan Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2007 had lapsed, after 120 days, and there was no news about re-signing of a new Ordinance – soon APP provided us with the text of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2009 signed into effect on July 3rd 2009 which was identical word-for-word with the 2007 and there was no mention of an SMS crime let alone a 14 year sentence

The statements made by Ministry of Interior were challenged, and the only official response that has been received till now that the ‘correct draft has not yet been released to the public‘. It only seems that the politically motivated statement was more or less geared towards scaring the general public into submission and hopefully stopping political rivals from ridiculing them.

In a recent development the Supreme Court of Pakistan has nullified all actions taken by General Perzaiz Musharraf during the illegal Emergency that was imposed on November 3rd 2007, the court has in the order requested the parliament to regularize all ordinances enacted by General Pervaiz Musharraf which may actually mean that the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2007 may stand to be jeopardized, the faith of its subsequent enactment by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari on July 3rd 2009 is still unknown, and hence we can assume that extensive lobbying is needed to undo this irresponsible law and help push the Ministry of IT to develop a document that adheres to the International standards across the world

As per the legal experts in Pakistan there is still no law that prevents the prorogation of funny SMS's and emails, ironically on the other hand the Government of Pakistan still chooses to say otherwise.

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