LAHORE: Condemning the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Bill 2021 passed recently by the treasury and opposition in the provincial assembly, the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said the move was aimed at curbing the freedom of press.

It authorises the speaker to form a judicial committee with powers of magistrate 1st class on a complaint by any member.

The controversial judicial committee can get the journalist arrested without warrants from the precincts of the assembly and sentence him up to six months jail and a fine of up to Rs10,000 for the breach of privilege mentioned in a schedule inserted into the Privileges Act II of 1972.

APNS President Sarmad Ali and Secretary General Ms Nazafreen Saigol Lakhani said in a statement the bill provides a judicial committee of the house with dictatorial powers to order arrest without warrant of a journalist and award sentence of six months with a fine of Rs10,000 without adopting the legal procedure if the committee is of the opinion that any privilege of a member is violated.

“It is highly unfortunate that the treasury and opposition benches always stand united on the issues of perks, privileges and matters of their vested interests.”

Govt promises to address journalists’ concerns

The APNS office-bearers stated that no such bill or action will be accepted by the journalists fraternity and human rights activists which is extrajudicial and contravenes the democratic norms and values.

The APNS called upon the legislators and the Punjab government to withdraw the anti-press bill without any delay.

The PBA and PFUJ expressed deep concerns over the bill and the arbitrary powers of the so-called judicial committee.

“The objective of passing of the bill is nothing but to refrain the journalists from discharging their professional responsibilities and to muzzle the freedom of expression,” says the statement.

The BPA urged the Punjab government to immediately withdraw the bill which has been passed in sheer disregard to all democratic norms.The PFUJ said the bill had been approved in haste and without proper debate by the legislators.

In a statement, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfikar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi demanded the Punjab government to withdraw the bill which had been designed to punish journalists and members of bureaucracy with the aim to silence them. The PFUJ said this law was a proof that political parties were against freedom of Press and free speech and against transparency and accountability.

The PFUJ leadership urged the Punjab Governor not to accord ascent to the bill as it was against the democratic norms.

“We will resist such laws and stage protest across Pakistan,” the PFUJ leaders said.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government on Friday promised to address all concerns of the journalists community regarding the bill.

“Our ‘minor’ mistake made the journalists to sit in the sun,” Governor Chaudhry Sarwar said while speaking to the protesting community outside the Governor House on Friday afternoon.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Speaker Parvez Elahi and Law Minister Raja Basharat all believe in freedom of press. I’ve talked to the speaker by phone and he promised to remove all reservations of the journalists community,” he said.

Mr Elahi also contacted Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (Rana Azeem) leadership and assured them withdrawal of all anti-journalists clauses in the bill needing consent of the governor to become a law.

Special Assistant to Chief Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan claimed that the bill was based on some ‘misunderstanding’ and assured a joint delegation of Punjab Union of Journalists, Lahore Press Club and Press Gallery Committee of arranging their meeting with the speaker to discuss the issue.

She also claimed that the information department was not taken on board before moving the bill in the house.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2021

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