LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-backed opposition leader in Punjab Assembly Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar says the Punjab Defamation Bill 2024 is a representation of a “particular mindset” to control journalists’ free thinking and a step towards dictatorship.

Calling the bill as “Aasmani Sahifa”, the opposition leader said it came from the ‘masters’ and the PML-N government sailed it through the Punjab Assembly without even changing a comma from the “received text” while bulldosing any sane discussion and collective wisdom.

The PML-N legislators were also perturbed as they neither saw any direction nor power to take independent decisions, said Mr Bhachar while speaking at the Meet The Press at Lahore Press Club on Saturday.

The opposition leader said the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) had proposed 14 amendments including freedom of speech, Qanun-i-Shahadat and tribunal procedures to the proposed bill but the `powerless’ ruling party did not consider any.

Opp leader says PTI to protest at every forum and join media JAC in the cause

Though the Pakistan People’s Party legislators had abstained from voting on the bill, the opposition leader observed that the PPP should stop playing on ‘both sides of the wicket.’ “If you are a champion of democracy and freedom of press, then give tough time to the ruling PML-N in the centre and block passage of the federal budget to press them to review the defamation bill,” Mr Bhachar asked the PPP leadership. “Absenting from voting in Punjab Assembly does not matter much because the ruling PML-N has its clear majority,” he commented.

Acknowledging that the PPP’s governor has decided to return the bill, he said, at the most the bill would automatically be ratified in a matter of 15 days.

Mr Bhachar said the PTI as a party would protest against the bill at every forum and join the Joint Action Committee of all media organisations in their cause.

“This government will also misuse the defamation bill and even rope the critical voices in other provinces using its police and the `IGs Police on its pay-roll’ in other provinces,” the opposition leader claimed. “As you dig deep, you will find an array of faults,” he observed.

He said the opposition was crying hoarse that the bill should extensively be discussed by all stakeholders including journalists’ bodies to bring a sane and viable law to curb fake news in the province. He said the Punjab Assembly speaker transgressed from parliamentary norms and did not take the opposition leader into confidence before letting the bill float in the assembly.

On the other hand, he said, the government had included PTI-SIC’s three members in the committee but two were supposed to appear before an ATC court, when the committee meeting was scheduled. Our one member had given his dissenting note in the committee meeting.

To a question about Punjab cabinet’s decision to book PTI founder chairman Imran Khan in a case of mutiny, Mr Bhachar said the Punjab government was even terrified of the founder chairman’s name and added “This is the second episode of defamation bill.”

The opposition leader also condemned the razing of PTI central secretariat in Islamabad and said Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi and Premier Shehbaz Sharif were making all-out efforts to suppress the PTI.

He said police also entered the party secretariat even when a UN delegation was inside. “Today is the second anniversary of May 25, 2022, police attack on party leaders and workers beginning to hold a long march on Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2024

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