Pakistani journalists reject Defamation Bill, slam government for restricting press freedom in country

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Islamabad, May 21 (IANS) Calling it a "black law", almost all journalist organisations in Pakistan have rejected the controversial 2024 Defamation Bill which was bulldozed and passed by the provincial Assembly of Punjab on Monday.

Condemning the bill as a direct and serious assault on press freedom in the country, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) slammed the government for ignoring the demands of the media community and forcibly passing the bill from the provincial Assembly.

CPNE maintained that the relevant stakeholders were not taken on board, nor any consideration was given to the recommendations of the provincial Punjab government.

"The bill, rushed through without any due consideration, not only establishes a parallel judicial system but also empowers self-styled tribunals to impose hefty fines, ranging from Rs three million to Rs 30 million," read a statement issued by the CPNE.

Under no circumstances will the CPNE accept such draconian legislation and we stand ready to protest alongside other journalistic organisations," the statement added.

As per the bill, a special tribunal would be formed to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing fake news. The tribunal shall decide the case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs three million. However, in case of allegations against individuals holding constitutional posts, the High Court will hear the cases.

The bill also maintains that the government will provide legal assistance to women and transgender individuals in defamation cases through an official legal team.

Despite the fact that a meeting was held between Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and journalist bodies on Monday, in which the bodies recommended the government put it on hold for some days, discuss amendments and remove some proposed measures, the bill was introduced in the provincial Assembly, ignoring the recommendations of the journalist bodies.

The passing of the bill in the provincial Assembly saw protests by opposition benches and journalists covering the parliamentary proceedings.

"The bill would provide the administration with unchecked authority to suppress dissenting voices," maintained CPNE.

"All major journalistic organisations, including the CPNE, Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), are united in demanding that the Punjab Information Minister postpones the defamation bill," the CPNE statement read.

Journalist bodies have decided to announce protests against the draconian law, insisting that any law or legislation impeding freedom of expression or press freedom would face strong resistance and opposition.