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Pak human rights body raises concerns over defamation bill proposed in Punjab Assembly

21 May 2024

Lahore [Pakistan], May 21 (ANI): The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its statement issued on Monday, expressed severe concerns over the draft of the defamation bill presented in the Punjab Assembly.

In the statement, the human rights organisation expressed that the bill presented in the assembly is concerning as it proposes a specialised structure to adjudicate claims of defamation.

HRCP has consistently decried special parallel judicial structures because they invariably violate fundamental rights and other universally accepted norms governing the fair functioning of the judiciary.

Additionally, the bill also proposes setting up separate defamation tribunals. And empowering the government to appoint judges for the same at higher allowances and benefits than the existing provincial judiciary functioning at the district level.

The statement also claimed that all these cases must be resolved within 180 days, which enables such tribunals to authorise and issue preliminary decrees up to PKR 3 million without a trial immediately after receiving a defamation claim.

"This will be a big blow to freedom of expression and dissent. These orders of fines could be passed without ensuring fair trials and following due process," said HRCP.

Moreover, the proposed law also created a special category of holders of constitutional offices, such as the prime minister, chief justices, and military chiefs, among others.

Any defamation claims made about this category will be heard by a one member tribunal comprised of judges from the Lahore High Court, violating the principle of equality of citizens and equality before the law, said the HRCP.

The HRCP also raised its concerns over the hurry in which the bill of defamation is being proposed in the Punjab Province Assembly.

The Pak human rights body said that five days is too short a period for any meaningful consultation with civil society and digital and mainstream media stakeholders on a complex legal proposal affecting an entire digital ecosystem of opinion makers. (ANI)

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