ISLAMABAD: Due to opposition by leaders within the ruling alliance, the fate of proposed legislation seeking up to five-year imprisonment for scandalising or ridiculing the Pakistan Army and judiciary hangs in the balance.

They termed the proposed amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) against basic human rights and demanded such protection and facility for each and every citizen including media persons, politicians and others.

The proposed changes were presented before the federal cabinet in its meeting on Tuesday but due to opposition by some members, the cabinet could not approve it compelling Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to form a cabinet committee to decide the matter.

At a private TV show, Minister for Power Khurram Dastagir Khan said he had opposed the amendments, because they were meant for ‘specific segments’. “The amendments were controversial that was why the PM formed a committee to review it,” he added.

He said he had told the cabinet members that such a provision in the constitution should be for everyone. “This protection should also be given to politicians and journalists especially women in the media who were recently ridiculed and humiliated in social media,” he added.

PPP leader Farhatullah Babar told Dawn that his party also rejected the proposed amendments, because there would be “dangerous” consequences if they were approved by the parliament and turned into law.

“Not now but we had already opposed these amendments when they were first presented before a standing committee of the National Assembly,” he said.

However, he had little hope that the committee formed by the PM would make a sagacious decision. He said another committee constituted on the issue of missing persons had been helpless to hold anyone accountable.

In a handout, the PM Office said a cabinet committee had been formed to carefully review the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2023 forwarded by the interior ministry.

It said the body would submit its report at the next cabinet meeting. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Economic Affairs Minister Sardar Ayaz Sadiq as well as representatives from the coalition parties have been included in the committee, it said.

Earlier, a threadbare discussion was held on the bill during the cabinet meeting, wherein most of the members opposed the amendment.

Media reports said PPP leaders Sherry Rehman, Naveed Qamar and Hina Rabbani Khar were among those who strongly opposed the proposed bill.

From the PML-N, only Khawaja Saad Rafique opposed the proposed bill outright.

Titled Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023, the bill suggested inclusion of Section-500A after Section 500 of the PPC. The new section is titled ‘Intentional ridiculing or scandalising of the state institutions etc.’

It said whoever makes, publishes, circulates any statement or disseminates information, through any medium, with an intention to ridicule or scandalise the judiciary, the armed forces or any of their member will be guilty of an offence punishable with simple imprisonment for a term up to five years or with a fine up to Rs1 million or with both.

It also suggested that the offender be arrested without a warrant and the offence would be non-bailable and non-compoundable which could only be challenged in a sessions court.

The cabinet summary said recently the country witnessed a spate of scandalous, derogatory and vicious attacks on certain institutions of the state, including the judiciary and armed forces and suggested that given the long-tested legal principle noted in Section 196 of the CrPC, federal government’s approval before taking cognisance of the case or registration of an FIR against any person has been made mandatory to avoid misuse of the mooted PPC section.

A similar draft bill was approved by an NA standing committee in April 2021 that suggested up to two years imprisonment and a fine for those who “intentionally ridicule the armed forces”.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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