KARACHI: The Judicial Activism Panel (JAP), a self-styled public interest forum based in Lahore, on Wednesday urged the Punjab government to reconsider the recently passed Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, calling it “draconian”, “illogical” and a “violation of the judgements of superior courts”, Dawn.com reported.

On Monday, the Punjab Assembly passed the bill, rejecting all amendments proposed by the opposition amid protests by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council and journalists covering the house proceedings.

In a letter addressed to the governor and chief minister of Punjab, JAP on Tuesday urged the two offices to “refrain from giving assent to such a draconian bill without taking into account the viewpoints of stakeholders”.

In an interesting development, PPP, which is an ally of the PML-N government, distanced itself from the controversial bill.

PPP distances itself from disputed piece of legislation

The JAP letter referred to the bill as “an attempt to snatch the right and freedom of speech which is a clear cut violation of Article 19 and 19A of the Constitution”.

It stated that before approaching the superior courts, a fair opportunity was being provided to the respective offices, as well as the provincial assembly, to reconsider the bill “in the interest of the nation”.

PPP distances itself

PPP MPA Ali Haider Gilani claimed that no party legislator had voted for the bill passed on Monday.

Former Senate chairman and senior PPP leader Raza Rabbani wondered why the Punjab government introduced the defamation bill when Defamation Ordinance 2002 and Punjab Defamation Act 2012 already exist.

He regretted that the provincial government neither waited for the report of the committee reviewing the draft defamation bill nor took care of the views of the journalist community and civil society.

He argued that as the provincial government enjoyed the powers to appoint tribunal judges and decide its terms of reference, it violated the principle of independence of judiciary.

Mr Gilani claimed that his party was not taken on board over the defamation bill.

“The PPP has never wanted to become a part of the defamation bill and its lawmakers were absent during voting on the bill,” he pointed out.

He said the lawmakers had absented themselves from the voting on the direction of the senior party leadership.

Central Punjab PPP general secretary Syed Hassan Murtaza said the party stands with the media on the issue of the defamation bill.

He said that despite the media trial of President Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto, the party never put any restrictions on media freedom and nor did it support the recent bid of the Punjab government to pass the Defamation Bill 2024.

He said though PPP was against media trial and character assassination of any person, the PML-N government should have taken the stakeholders into confidence before tabling the bill.

Mr Murtaza advised the government to negotiate with the journalist organisations without wasting time on the defamation bill.

Besides, more than 80 civil society organisations on Tuesday rejected the bill, calling it a gross infringement of the rights of free expression and press freedom.

Amjad Mahmood in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

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