ISLAMABAD: The government had to face embarrassment on Wednesday after it failed to get the National Assembly’s nod for the controversial cybercrime bill due to lack of interest of its own lawmakers.
Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rahman seemed adamant to get the draft of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016 passed from the house for the second time after it was approved by the Senate on July 29 with 51 amendments.
Amid opposition’s protest, the minister frantically tried to persuade the government ministers and lawmakers to stay in the house and help her get the bill passed. However, she failed to maintain the quorum of 86 lawmakers, which is the minimum requirement to run the business.
Ironically, attendance in the house was almost full when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the session earlier in the day. However, most of the lawmakers were already leaving when the session resumed after the Maghrib prayers.
The PPP lawmakers – Imran Zafar Laghari and Nafisa Shah – pointed out the lack of quorum and the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had to reluctantly order a count, which showed that the minimum number of lawmakers was not in the house.
Later, Sadiq announced adjournment of the session till Thursday (today). Interestingly, on April 13 when the NA first passed the bill, there were just 36 members in the house.
Earlier, the opposition parties including the PPP, PTI and MQM strongly condemned certain sections of the bill, which, according to them could curb the freedom of expression.
The PPP’s Parliamentary Leader Naveed Qamar started the debate, saying that it was a draconian law, which is violative of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. “It is certain that the draft will not stand up to scrutiny of the court of law,” he added.
Qamar said under the bill the minimum age for punishment is 10-year which is ‘incomprehensible’ as on the one hand the government talks about the child rights while on the other hand it takes such steps. “None of us will be spared if this law is used in undemocratic way,” he warned.
MQM lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi also deplored certain sections of the bill, which, he said, are totally unacceptable. He also objected to eight of 51 amendments to the bill passed by the Senate.
“Youth will be the prime victim of the new law as it is not necessary that the public will have the knowhow about ethics and laws of social media,” he said.
Abidi asked whether people should purchase birds as communication through cyber space will become perilous after passage of this law. “The bill is criminalising and demoralising the population,” he added.
PTI’s Ali Muhammad Khan feared that even if not by the current government, the law might be used against opponents by the future rulers.
“Our youth is getting politicised and it is for the good of country but passage of this bill will discourage them to take part in political activities or debate [on cyberspace],” he said, adding that section 9 of the bill is criminalising the use of internet for criticising politicians or seeking information about them.
“The government should remove all the politically motivated sections of the bill,” he added.
PPP’s Nafisa Shah said she was feeling ashamed and embarrassed for being part of parliament which was going to pass the bill which was muzzling fundamental rights. “The cybercrime bill is government’s oppressive instrument of surveillance of youth and civil society,” she said,
The bill is now likely to be passed today from the house.