New Delhi: Pakistan is set to introduce a Bill to amend its laws in order to introduce a punishment up to five-years of imprisonment for “ridiculing or scandalising” its armed forces or the judiciary.
The federal government is set to amend the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), in order to curb these attacks, according to Pakistan’s Dawn.com.
A Cabinet summary of the Bill suggests that it has been brought in as Pakistan has witnessed a rise in attacks on various state institutions, including the judiciary and the armed forces.
The attacks which would draw punishment are not restricted to verbal statements. If implemented, the Bill is set to take a hit on “freedom of expression” in the country.
The new section is titled ‘Intentional ridiculing or scandalising of the state institutions etc’, in the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023.
The Bill suggests that anyone publishing, circulating any statement or disseminating information, through any medium, in order to ridicule or scandalise the judiciary and the armed forces or any of their members will be guilty of the offense. The punishment for the crime may extend up to five years of imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs 1 million or both.
According to the new ‘Section 500A’ of the Bill, the offence is non-bailable, non-compoundable and the arrest can be made without any warrant. The arrest can only be challenged in a sessions court.
The Cabinet Summary pushes the blame on a “deliberate cyber campaign” by certain wings for self serving motives to nurture hatred against important state institutions and its officials
Judicial and army officials, according to the Cabinet summary, do not have the opportunity to fight such attacks while appearing in the media.
Ever since former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was ousted from office in April last year, he has attacked judiciary and taken on the army. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has also in the past attacked the judiciary and the army.
“I simply cannot lend support to any draconian legislation. I told the journalists that I am not aware of any such defamation bill. I believe that Pakistan needs defamation laws with financial recourse to protect everyone from unsubstantiated accusations,” former Pakistan prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tweeted, reacting to the report. “I believe that Pakistan needs defamation laws with financial recourse to protect everyone from unsubstantiated accusations.”
Former federal minister and PTI leader Shireen Mazari was quick to call the Bill a “final blow to democracy”. “So this is what Reimagining Pakistan is all about. The final blow to democracy in Pak. An Orwellian State in the making. We politicians should remember such measures come back to haunt all of us eventually!” she tweeted.
In 2021, the Imran Khan government had made an attempt to pass a similar Bill that proposed up to two years imprisonment and a fine extending to Rs 5 lakh, or both, for those who “intentionally ridicule the armed forces”. However, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020 was not passed amidst criticism across the country.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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