ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has strongly condemned the federal and Punjab governments’ recent move to amend the defamation law, terming it a fascist and draconian step to stifle dissenting voices and curb media freedom.

In a joint statement issued on Friday, PFUJ President Afzal Butt and Secretary General Arshad Ansari said the federal and Punjab governments are bent upon imposing fascist laws that would make it impossible for journalists to carry out their professional duties and expose wrongdoings of any government.

The Punjab government has decided to amend the defamation law while Def­e­nce Minister Khawja Asif has re­­­vealed the government’s plans to punish anyone who is involved in spreading any document that has been marked as secret.

The statement said that the minister made it clear that anyone found involved in doing so would have to face a two-year imprisonment.

The PFUJ statement was issued in the wake of a recent proposal over amendment to the defamation law, called the Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, and the PFUJ has called it more draconian than the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, imposed by military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.

“The bill features a dangerously loose definition of defamation and imposes much hi­­g­h­­er financial penalties and blanket restrictions on commenting on ongoing cases. The sole purpose of this bill is to strike fear in anyone who may be contemplating criticising or expressing their frustrations with those in power,” the PFUJ said.

The PFUJ said the rationale of amending the defamation law apparently looked like a clandestine activity and the PFUJ has stated earlier too that there were already enough laws in the country to deal with the question of defamation.

The two leaders of PFUJ accused Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz of following a dictatorial path.

“Attempts are now being made to silence journalists with the fear of high courts, tribunals, fines and arrests. We exp­ect that the PPP, an ally of the Punjab government, will come forward and speak for press freedom and raise its voice against this law,” the PFUJ statement said. It said that any legislation in this reg­a­­rd should be done with the consultation of all stakeholders.

“Maryam Nawaz is following in the footsteps of military dictator Musharraf to curb media freedom,” the PFUJ leaders said, adding that the journalists’ body has also taken exception to the statement of Khaw­aja Asif, as his statement seems to be the voice of the invisible forces that have always worked against democracy.

“The PML-N committed a blunder in the past by imposing PECA 2016 and now it is on a suicidal path by talking about imposing the clauses of Official Secrets Act upon journalists and the mainstream as well as social media,” the PFUJ leaders said.

They warned that the journalist community will not remain silent over such developments, and countrywide struggle against these fascist plans of the governments will be launched.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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