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ISLAMABAD: Amid stiff resistance offered by the opposition parties, a parliamentary body, on Wednesday, passed a bill seeking to make intentionally ridiculing and defaming the armed forces a punishable crime.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior, which met with MNA Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz in the chair, passed the Criminal Law (amendment) Act 2020, moved by MNA Amjad Ali Khan.

Khan, while briefing the committee about the bill, said that the main objective of the bill is to prevent hatred and disrespectful behavior against the armed forces and to take strict action against those who bring disrepute to the armed forces institutions as per law.

According to the bill, the insertion of section 500A, [Act XLV of 1850], “500A intentional ridiculing of the Armed Forces- Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed forces or a member, therefore 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 Rs500,000.”

An official of the Ministry of Interior said that his ministry endorsed the proposed legislation keeping in view the current situation in the country and in order to discourage this practice once and for all.

He also requested the committee to invite the views and comments of from the Ministry of Defence in this regard. He informed the committee that his ministry referred the bill to the law directorate of General Headquarters (GHQ), the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration, the provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for their views.

The official said that home department of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has not endorsed the bill, stating that its promulgation would create conflict among the existing constitutional and statutory provisions and its misuse cannot be overruled.

Moreover, it would create discrimination with other law enforcement agencies and public offices which are against the provision of the constitution too; therefore, the bill may not be endorsed.

The response from other relevant stakeholders is still awaited, he said.

An official of the Ministry of Law and Justice said that his ministry endorsed the bill.

However, the committee’s members from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposed the amendment on the ground that the proposed was against the article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees freedom of expression and it would make the institution controversial.

PPP MNA Syed Agha Rafiullah said that this law would be used for political revenge. We are standing firm with our institutions but they should not be made a sacred cow, he said, adding that criticism against institution in good faith would come under this law. You are making such kinds of legislations for personal popularisation, he said. He requested the chair to reject this bill, so that our institutions were not made controversial. PML MNA Marriyum Aurangzeb said that we already have laws related to defamation and freedom of expression.

This law will not apply to people sitting abroad but it will apply against our citizens, she said, adding that the proposed law shows an intention that is not good for institutions.

If all provinces have so far not forwarded their comments or views then why this committee wanted to pass this bill, she said.

She said that the Ministry of Law and Interior should inform the committee that which articles under the constitution provide protection to the armed forces.

“Give some time to the Ministry of Interior and Law to give a presentation regarding laws which provide protection to the armed forces,” she said.

However, the chairman put the bill for vote before the committee and asked the members to present votes for or against the bill.

During the voting, five members including the chairman of the committee voted for the bill, while four opposed it.

The committee also discussed the matter related to spread of illicit drugs especially ice in the twin cities, and summoned Inspector General Police (IGP) of all the provinces and the capital city during the next meeting to the discuss the matter in detail.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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