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LAHORE: The Punjab government on Monday passed the Defamation Bill 2024 in Punjab Assembly while rejecting all the amendments of the opposition and amidst the protest.

The bill was presented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman. Advocate General Punjab Khaleed Ishaq explained the key points of the bill and responded to the opposition’s objections. All amendments proposed by the opposition were rejected, and the opposition declared the bill a “black law”.

Opposition members protested against the bill, tore up copies of the bill. The journalists walked out of the press gallery and protested against the bill.

The journalist also announced a nationwide protest call against the passage of the bill.

According to the details the bill will be applicable to electronic, print, and social media, including Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, with a fine of Rs 30 lakh for spreading false news or character assassination. Tribunals will be established to hear cases related to the bill, which will be bound to decide within 180 days. Cases related to constitutional positions will be heard by a high court bench.

Earlier, the session started 2 hours 25 minutes late under the chair of Speaker Punjab Assembly Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan.

Opposition leader Ahmed Khan Bhachar presented his arguments in favor of his amendment, stating that the Defamation Bill 2024 is a “black law” and they will not be a part of it. Opposition leader Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman opposed sending the bill back to the select committee, arguing that a thorough discussion had already taken place in the committee and there was no need for further deliberation. Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman also pointed out that introducing the bill violates Article 8. Opposition member Ahmed Rashed Bhatti discussed the bill, highlighting that Clause 23 of the law contradicts the Defamation Law 2024. Ahmed Rashed Bhatti also mentioned that the word “defamation” was removed from the constitution after the fourth amendment, but is now being reinstated as part of the law.

He opposed the bill, citing Articles 202 and 203, and emphasized that it is against the rights of the media and the public.

Meanwhile, journalists boycotted the assembly session and staged protest demonstrations on the assembly’s stairs.

The president of Lahore Press Club rejected the Defamation Bill 2024, terming the bill presented by the Punjab government ‘non-democratic.

Arshad Ansari, the president of the Lahore Press Club, stated that a protest was called in the Punjab Assembly today on behalf of government members following a meeting of the Joint Action Committee regarding the Defamation Bill 2024.

Ansari recalled that a consensus failed to be reached with the government members, as they had already decided to present the Defamation Bill in the assembly today.

He added that the committee had offered to delay the protest and requested the government members to postpone the bill for a week, but this request was not accepted.

Arshad Ansari expressed his concerns, questioning how new laws can be introduced when there are already existing laws such as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).

He criticized the introduction of the new defamation law, stating, “Today, the journalist community has been attacked, we will not compromise on the freedom of the press.”

“These government members are the ones who introduced the PECA law in Pakistan. When they are in opposition, they become champions of press freedom, but when they come into power, they want to control the media,” Ansari remarked.

The president of the Lahore Press Club highlighted that a meeting of the Joint Action Committee has been called in which the future course of action will be decided.

“We will boycott the national and other provincial assemblies including the Punjab Assembly,” Ansari said.

Terming the Defamation Bill 2024 a ‘draconian law’, Arshad Ansari openly opposed and announced not to accept the bill under any circumstances.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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