Online defamation and Cyber Laws in Pakistan

With the rising number of Social Media users in Pakistan, it is now easier to defame any person online with a single post that reaches the public at large through either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. These posts are able to destroy the reputation and dignity of a person within minutes. The mass audience of social media tends to consider any viral news as true whether it is a false and frivolous story. One cannot forget the lynching of Mashal Khan at Bacha Khan University, who was falsely accused of committing blasphemy resulting in getting brutally murdered by an angry mob.  The present ongoing feud between PPP and Cynthia Ritchie which seemed to have begun with her online defamatory remarks and allegations against the former PPP leader is another example and the matter is being dealt with the FIA Cybercrime Wing.

Slander (false statement made orally) and Libel (false statement in writing), broadly covered under the umbrella of defamation, are false statements made by an individual that is harmful to someone else’s reputation. The law of defamation is covered under the Defamation Ordinance 2002 in Pakistan and this law allows the plaintiff to claim or recover damages if it is proved that his/her reputation was falsely damaged. Defamation is also considered a criminal offense under Section 499 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 but earlier it did not cover the broad and complex area on the use of social media which has been prevailing in recent years.

However, after the enactment of the PREVENTION OF ELECTRONIC CRIMES ACT 2016 (PECA 2016), defaming a person online can raise criminal charges against an individual resulting in imprisonment and a hefty fine. Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 states;

Offenses against the dignity of a natural person.— (1) Whoever intentionally and publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any information through any information system, which he knows to be false, and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both:

Provided that nothing under this sub-section shall apply to anything aired by a broadcast media or distribution service licensed under the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002 (XIII of 2002).

A victim can report the complaint along with the evidence or URL links of the posts to the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (F.I.A.). It should be understood that falsely defaming an individual on social media can be a criminal offense in Pakistan as per the above-cited law. If any person is found to spread false or frivolous information about any person intentionally, he/she can be jailed for 3 years or will have to pay a fine of One million rupees. Under PECA 2016, recently a man has been sentenced to six years of imprisonment in Lahore and imposed a fine of Rs. 1.7 Million for committing the offense of blackmailing a woman online. The PECA 2016 has received much criticism from human rights organizations that this law is a threat to freedom of expression and the provisions have criminalized defamation which should be considered a civil wrong.

Whether this is right or wrong, the legislation is clear, and the penalties are harsh and can be severe.  Individuals should ensure they understand the perils associated with any online posts which may regard as defamatory which can land them in Jail.



Author Since:  June 7, 2020

Advocate Adam Jabbar is a practicing lawyer having professional experience in Corporate & Commercial Law, Constitutional Law, Cyber Law (Data Protection and Privacy), and Criminal Law. He graduated from the University of London with an L.L.B. Hons and B.B.A. from Heriot-Watt University. Adam started his legal career at Orr, Dignam & Co., which is one of the leading Corporate Law firm in Pakistan to have a grip on handling corporate matters which include M&A and drafting and negotiating contracts. He is currently working with Sr. ASC. Ahmed Raza Qasuri who is one of the founding father of the Constitution of Pakistan and a Senior Politician. Adam acts as a strategic counsel to clients across different industry sectors and regularly appears before the Courts in Pakistan. His expertise includes handling Financial Crime (NAB) and Cybercrime (FIA) cases. He has also advised several leading global tech companies and helped them comply with the latest Cyber Law regulations. Adam has even authored a best selling book and made several TV appearances. His articles are regularly published in leading newspapers. His range of practice includes providing free (pro-bono) services to those in need.

Get in touch him on adam.qasurilaw@gmail.com