Minister says ‘ridiculous’ after NA body okays bill criminalising criticism of military

ISLAMABAD: A day after a National Assembly committee approved a proposal to amend the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to take action on complaints of ridiculing of the military, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry termed the move “absolutely ridiculous”.

The bill, passed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior, proposes that anyone found guilty of such an offence be handed up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs500,000, or both.

“Respect is earned [it] cannot be imposed on people,” Chaudhry said in a tweet. “I strongly feel instead of new such laws, Contempt of Court laws should be repealed.”

While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) stalwart did not directly point to the bill in the tweet, his remarks came in reaction to a tweet by a journalist who had taken a thinly-veiled dig at the development.

Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in the House by PTI MP Amjad Ali Khan, standing committee on defence chairman, in September and was approved by the committee on the interior on Wednesday.

“Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, he shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both,” the bill said.

The purpose of this amendment is “to prevent hatred and disrespectful behaviour against the armed forces”.

The bill proposes an amendment to Section 500 of the PPC. The law states: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

The amendment, called Section 500-A, states: “Punishment for intentional ridiculing of the Armed Forces etc. Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, he shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both.”

The bill to combat dissent comes at a time when criminal cases are being filed against journalists and activists by the day and state-sanctioned censorship is rampant.

Before approval of the bill, the committee saw strong opposition from Agha Rafiullah and Marriyum Aurangzeb — MPs from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) respectively — but the bill was passed with five against four votes when the committee chairman voted in favour.

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