Opposition, civil society bodies, journalists reject Punjab Defamation Bill as ‘regressive’

  • Bill’s definition of ‘journalists’ and ‘newspapers’ set a dangerous precedent for stifling freedom of expression
  • Omar Ayub terms legislation black law, saying they will resist it in NA, provincial assemblies

ISLAMABAD: A day after the passage of Punjab Defamation Bill (2024) by the provincial assembly, more than 80 civil society organisations on Tuesday registered protest against the legislation while Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Omar Ayub stated they will resist the ‘black law’ in the national and provincial assemblies.

On Monday, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, amid protests by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council and journalists covering parliamentary proceedings.

The SIC members tore apart copies of the bill after the House passed it through a voice vote.

A press release issued by civil society and journalists on Tuesday said they outrightly reject the Punjab Defamation Bill, given that it was a gross infringement on the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and press freedom.

It said that the bill served as a “draconian and regressive” tool to suppress dissent and criticism and particularly targeted journalists and the wider public.

Vetted by the Special Committee-1 in the absence of standing committees, the bill was tabled by Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman after the PML-N government refused to delay voting on the bill, even for a week, at the request of journalists.

On the occasion, the press gallery members walked out of the assembly to boycott the proceedings. They rejected the bill as a “curb on free media”.

It said that the bill’s provisions, which allow defamation actions to be initiated without proof of actual damage and imposing extortionate fines, amounted to nothing less than legal intimidation tactics.

Furthermore, the bill’s broad definition of “journalists” and “newspapers” to include social media users set a dangerous precedent for stifling freedom of expression online, the statement said.

“The proposed punishments, including the possibility of blocking social media accounts, are disproportionate and antithetical to democratic principles,” it said.

The alliance urged the Punjab government to heed civil society and stakeholders’ voices and reverse the effort to pass another regressive legislation akin to Peca (Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act).

It called for the defamation bill to be “scrapped entirely”, demanding the governor of Punjab to not sign the bill.

It said that future attempts to address disinformation and hate speech on online platforms should be initiated with inclusive consultations at the national level.

Opposition to resist defamation bill

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub Tuesday said that a black law is being implemented.

Speaking to the media outside Lahore’s Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), Omar stated that they will resist the black law in the national and provincial assemblies.

He stated that according to the constitution, no one’s speech can be banned. Omar Ayub added that whosoever talked about Ayub Khan’s martial law, ask him what Nawaz Sharif did.

He further said that Babar Awan has explained the whole law to the court. ‘I am grateful to the court who gave justice. I don’t have the will to travel all over Pakistan in one day, these are all false cases’.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Babar Awan added that the Chief Minister and Law Minister are insulting the court. The law made to arrest the journalists will not work, they will approach the court against it.

He stated that PTI stands with the journalists. The Dubai Leaks case should be opened immediately, the work of the judiciary is to uphold the rights of the people.

It is pertinent to note that the Punjab Assembly had approved the Defamation Bill 2024 yesterday.

The opposition called the bill a black law and tore up copies of the bill in protest.

Journalists also walked out of the press gallery and protested on the stairs of the Assembly against the bill while calling for nationwide protests.

Defamation Bill

The Defamation Bill 2024 will apply to print, electronic and social media. The defamation cases can be filed on false and untrue news spread.

The bill will also apply to fake news spread through YouTube and social media, the action will be taken on news spread to harm personal life and public space.

Tribunals will be set up for defamation cases, which will be bound to decide within six months. Under the defamation bill, the damages will be Rs3 million.

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