Pakistani government announced a new law last week regarding people who made jokes by SMS (Short Messaging Service) or email about President Asif Ali Zardari will be sentenced to 14 years in jail.

Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been tasked to trace SMS and emails that slander the political leadership of the country under the vague Cyber Crimes Act.

In addition to facing up to 14 years in the jail, violators could have their property seized, Malik said, adding that the government would seek Interpol assistance in deporting foreign offenders.

Jokes in Pakistani political culture are a very effective way to delegitimize rulers. Historically, these have been used by the weak and helpless against the powerful, said Rasool Bux Raees, a political analyst at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The president Zardari has been a subject of harsh criticism since he was elected last year because of the government’s sluggishness in solving problems.

Local media and human rights activists have been criticizing the proposed law against anti-government SMS and online texts as draconian and authoritarian.

The English-language newspaper the Nation said early this week that Malik's statement showed that Zardari's government had lost its nerve.