Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media
A Pakistani journalist wearing a protective facemask uses his mobile phone outside the Aga Khan University Hospital where a patient of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has been admitted in Karachi on February 26, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media
  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.


Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit

Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit
Updated 23 June 2024
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Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit

Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit
  • Coach mulling legal options amid widespread allegations families of players, coaching staff traveled to US on PCB expense 
  • Pakistan team and management in line of fire this month as squad failed to qualify for second round of ICC T20 World Cup 2024

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan cricket team’s assistant head coach, Azhar Mahmood, warned on Saturday he would pursue legal action against those levelling “false” allegations against him and his family for traveling to the United States (US) at the expense of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) during the ongoing T20 World Cup series. 

The Pakistan team and management have been in the line of fire this month as the national squad failed to qualify for the second round of the ICC T20 World Cup 2024. The criticism has revolved around the team’s performance as well as that the families of players and coaching staff traveled to the US on the PCB’s expense. 

“I will be pursuing legal advice against those responsible for making these false allegations toward me and my family, and strict action will be taken accordingly,” the former cricketer said in a post on X. “We will not be further discussing this matter on social media.”

He called the allegations “baseless and false,” and said the culture of falsely accusing and misleading people was turning “ridiculous and dangerous.”

Pakistani media has also widely reported this week on captain Babar Azam mulling legal action against YouTubers and former players who had accused him of misconduct during the T20 World Cup.

Pakistan fell to the tournament’s biggest upset when the United States, a tier-two member of the game, beat the 2009 champions via Super Over. Defeat by arch-rivals India then left Babar’s side with a mountain to climb to advance.

Babar had stepped down as captain of all three formats after Pakistan failed to make the knockout stage of the 50-overs World Cup in India last year, but was reinstated as white-ball skipper ahead of the 20-overs showpiece in the US and West Indies.


Pakistan army backs new operation against ‘terrorists, anti-state anarchists, religious fanatics’ 

Pakistan army backs new operation against ‘terrorists, anti-state anarchists, religious fanatics’ 
Updated 23 June 2024
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Pakistan army backs new operation against ‘terrorists, anti-state anarchists, religious fanatics’ 

Pakistan army backs new operation against ‘terrorists, anti-state anarchists, religious fanatics’ 
  • Operation Azm-e-Istehkam announced after meeting of National Apex Committee attended by civilian, military leaders
  • Operation being launched amid rise in militancy, after recent incident of a mob lynching tourist over blasphemy accusations 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army said on Sunday the newly announced Operation “Azm-e-Istehkam” would include actions both against militants as well as “anti-state anarchists and religious fanatics,” as the South Asian nation faces rising cases of militant, political and religious violence. 

Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced its plan to launch the comprehensive Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, campaign after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif led a meeting of the country’s top civilian and military leaders to review security challenges. The announcement of the operation comes amid a surge in militant attacks and after a recent incident in which a mob lynched a tourist over accusations of blasphemy in the northwestern Swat district. 

“Indiscriminate actions will be taken against the terrorists. No discrimination will be done, while dealing with the terrorists, whether those are Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Gilgiti or Pathan,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement shared with reporters, citing various ethnic groups in Pakistan. 

“Similarly, operations will be conducted against anti state anarchists and religious fanatics, irrespective of their sect or religion, especially incidents like Sialkot and Swat will be dealt with sternly,” the statement added, referring to recent cases of mob lynchings over accusations of blasphemy. 

A tourist belonging to Pakistan’s Sialkot city was dragged from a police station by the mob in Swat district on Thursday before being killed and set on fire over accusations he burnt pages of the Qur’an. Such incidents are not uncommon in Pakistan where a mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence.

“Any person or group, who tries to destabilize the state or takes the law into hands, will be dealt with severely,” the army statement added, saying the apex committee meeting was attended by all political parties who backed the launch of the new operation. 

“Everyone agreed that apart from the issue of terrorism, religious fanaticism is rising in the cities, which also needs to be addressed.”


Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report

Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report
Updated 23 June 2024
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Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report

Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report
  • 55 women attended IMET courses from 2020-2023, which is more than double the 22 women who participated from 2013-2019
  • Over the last two consecutive years, Pakistan led the region in sending female military officers for courses in the United States

ISLAMABAD: The number of Pakistani women officers who received military training in the United States increased by 150 percent in the last decade, according to a report released this month by the US State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Since 2013, the number of Pakistani female military personnel participating in the International Military Education and Training program (IMET) has significantly grown. The State Department-sponsored program is designed to build military-to-military relationships with partner nations by funding international military students to attend American military training and education courses.

“Fifty-five women have attended IMET courses from 2020-2023, which is more than double the 22 women who participated from 2013 to 2019,” the report said. “In addition, over the last two consecutive years, Pakistan has led the region in sending female military officers for courses in the United States.”

The report said Pakistani women officers had been attending specialized courses focused on topics such as anti-terrorism and anti-piracy, military justice, information technology, cyber strategies, public affairs, gender-based violence, and medical-related courses.

Two women attended the US Naval Postgraduate School and completed their MBAs in financial management. Another student from the Judicial Commission returned to Pakistan to take an appointment in a train-the-trainer capacity and was tasked with updating Pakistan’s own curriculum. In addition, two female officers had qualified for Pakistani staff college this year, which would open the opportunity for them to attend staff college in the United States as well.

“With women now in the combat arms ranks in the Pakistani military, female officers are attending professional military education courses and returning to the force to be considered for leadership positions,” the report added. 


Mob lynchings in spotlight in Pakistani parliament as top minister seeks national strategy

Mob lynchings in spotlight in Pakistani parliament as top minister seeks national strategy
Updated 23 June 2024
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Mob lynchings in spotlight in Pakistani parliament as top minister seeks national strategy

Mob lynchings in spotlight in Pakistani parliament as top minister seeks national strategy
  • A mob beat a tourist to death on Thursday night in Swat after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an
  • Last month, a Christian man attacked by a mob on charges of burning Qur’an died of injuries in hospital 

ISLAMABAD: The recent mob lynching of a local tourist accused of desecrating the Qur’an resonated in the National Assembly on Saturday as a prominent federal minister urged the house to devise a national strategy to prevent such violence in the future.
A tourist belonging to Pakistan’s Sialkot city was dragged from a police station by the mob in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday before being killed and set on fire. Such incidents are not uncommon in Pakistan where a mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence.
“If it had been an isolated incident, it might have been overlooked, but this is a series of events,” Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal told parliament. “It is my request to you that this assembly should take notice of this incident since our society is on the brink of disaster where street justice through mob lynching is done in the name of religion, trampling the constitution, law and all fundamental principles of the state.”
Iqbal suggested that the National Assembly constitute a special committee to review the causes behind such incidents and create a plan of action.
Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.
In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.


Pro-Palestine protest in Islamabad concludes after 40 days following government negotiations

Pro-Palestine protest in Islamabad concludes after 40 days following government negotiations
Updated 22 June 2024
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Pro-Palestine protest in Islamabad concludes after 40 days following government negotiations

Pro-Palestine protest in Islamabad concludes after 40 days following government negotiations
  • ‘Save Gaza Campaign’ wanted Pakistan to formally protest to envoys of the countries supporting Israel
  • Two activists were killed and four others injured when a speeding car had an accident at their protest site

ISLAMABAD: A group of pro-Palestine protesters in Pakistan’s federal capital, Islamabad, decided to call off their sit-in after holding a meeting with Federal Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Saturday.
The activists belonging to the Save Gaza Campaign set up their camps near the high-security Red Zone to express solidarity with the people of Palestine who have been targeted by the Israeli war machine since Oct. 7, 2023.
The protesters stayed in the area for nearly 40 days, asking the Pakistani authorities to take practical steps, such as formally protesting to the envoys of the countries supporting Israel, to help the people of Gaza.
“Every Pakistani feels the same about Palestine as they do in their heart,” the interior minister said while referring to the Save Gaza Campaign activists after successful negotiations with the group. “And what they are saying, definitely, there is nothing in it that we object to. Pakistan is already playing its role [to demand a ceasefire]. But we have also promised them [the activists] that we will act on their suggestions.”
“My request to them, which they have agreed to, is that they are going to end their sit-in,” he added.
Last month, the Save Gaza Campaign activists decided to hold their ground after an accident involving a speeding vehicle killed two of them on the roadside and injured four others.
Naqvi also mentioned the incident while praying for the deceased activists and promising quick justice in the case.
Israel has killed over 37,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them women and children, since the beginning of the war.
While the conflict followed a surprise attack by Hamas, which said it was retaliating to the deteriorating condition of Palestinians under occupation, Israel’s response was widely viewed as disproportionate, bordering on genocide.