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Pakistan’s opposition rejects toughened new social media law

February 21, 2022 GMT

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s political opposition and journalist community Monday rejected a toughened up cybercrimes law approved by the country’s president that enhances jail terms for social media users convicted of disseminating “fake news.”

The development came a day after President Arif Alvi approved the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, enhancing jail terms from three to five years for people convicted of spreading “fake news” on social media.

Suspects arrested under the law will not be entitled to bail during trial. The legislation takes effect immediately.

“It is an attack on freedom of expression,” Maryam Aurangzeb, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Muslim League opposition party told reporters at a news conference.

Yusuf Raza Gilani, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, at a separate news conference, said his party will challenge the new law in the court because it is aimed at curbing media freedom.

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Almost all of Pakistan’s other opposition parties and journalist unions have also opposed the new law, which was approved by Alvi days after authorities arrested media owner Mohsin Baig. Baig had appeared on a TV talk show and suggested that Prime Minister Imran Khan had shown favoritism this month by granting an award to a Cabinet minister Murad Saeed with whom he has a close friendship.

Although the government says it supports freedom of speech, critics say the space for media freedom has shrunk in Pakistan since Khan’s government came into power in 2018.