Protests rise against ‘draconian’ and ‘regressive’ Punjab Defamation Bill 2024
Meanwhile, the media Joint Action Committee (JAC) has decided to challenge the bill in the Lahore High Court (LHC).

at 1:09 am
POK and Kashmir News
File pic of Punjab Assembly

Islamabad, May 22: More than 80 civil society organisations registered their protest against the Punjab Defamation Bill (2024), which was passed by the provincial assembly, even as Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Omar Ayub stated they will resist the “black law” in the national and provincial assemblies.

Meanwhile, the media Joint Action Committee (JAC) has decided to challenge the bill in the Lahore High Court (LHC).

In a virtual emergency meeting, the JAC denounced the bill, “passed under the cover of night without stakeholder consultation, as draconian”.

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

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

A press release issued by civil society and journalists said they outrightly reject the Punjab Defamation Bill, terming it 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.

The bill was vetted by the Special Committee-1 in the absence of standing committees, and 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.

The press gallery members had walked out of the assembly to boycott the proceedings and 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.

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

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

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub 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.

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 said.

The Defamation Bill 2024 will apply to print, electronic and social media. 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.