Pakistan: International Federation for Journalists condemns Punjab govt over 'contentious' bill against free speech

The International Federation of Journalists on Tuesday condemned the passage of the contentious 'Punjab Defamation Act 2024' by the provincial administration of Pakistan's Punjab Province.


ANI | Updated: 28-05-2024 23:38 IST | Created: 28-05-2024 23:38 IST
Pakistan: International Federation for Journalists condemns Punjab govt over 'contentious' bill against free speech
Representative Image. Image Credit: ANI
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The International Federation of Journalists on Tuesday condemned the passage of the contentious 'Punjab Defamation Act 2024' by Pakistan's Punjab Province and expressed concerns against its potential misuse against freedom of the press. While calling upon the provincial government, the body said the bill was passed despite heavy protests from journalists and opposition leaders over its "draconian" provisions.

IFJ had earlier raised concerns over the potential weaponisation of the law by the provincial authorities against the freedom of the press. "On May 20, the Provincial Assembly of Punjab ratified the Defamation Bill of 2024, dismissing all amendments suggested by both opposition political parties and media stakeholders. Nominally aimed to curb the spread of disinformation across digital, traditional, and social media platforms, the bill has been widely criticised as 'draconian' for its severe punishments and potential for abuse"," the International Federation of Journalists

Elaborating upon the technicalities of the act, the body stated that the approved bill defines defamation as a civil wrong and the victim side can initiate action "without proof of actual damage of loss." "Special tribunals, which would be composed of government-selected members from a Lahore High Court, Chief Justice shortlist, would be obligated to try cases within six months of registration. Notably, in cases of allegations against individuals holding 'Constitutional Offices', the high court will hear the cases," the statement added.

In financial terms, the bill proposes fines of up to 3,000,000 Pakistani Rupees (PKR) (USD 10,750) with potential 'punitive damages' able to extend to ten times that amount. Beyond fines, tribunals would have the power to force offenders to submit an apology, and suspend or block the social media accounts or media platforms through which the content was published, the IFJ added.

The body further said that only one meeting was held between provincial leadership and media stakeholders, after which the bill was presented and passed without the inclusion of feedback from the media profession. A Joint Action Committee has vowed to challenge the legislation in the Lahore High Court, identifying vague terms and definitions, harsh fines, and overlapping or duplicated laws as impacting Pakistan's constitutional commitments to fundamental freedoms.

Over 80 civil society organisations have rejected the bill as a 'gross infringement' of basic rights, while the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have expressed grave concerns over the bill, the statement added. Commenting on the issue, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) President GM Jamali and Secretary General Rana M Azeem also expressed their concern over the legislation and identified the law as contrary to Pakistan's constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression.

"The PFUJ completely rejects the defamation law and announces a series of protests at all levels in due course of time. We demand the government to review this bill and take all the stakeholders in confidence and contemplate their concerns," they said in a statement. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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