Defamation Challenged

Judging by the number of eyebrows raised when the infamous Defamation Law made its way through the Punjab Assembly, a petition in the Lahore High Court challenging the law is little surprise. This should, however, be a moment of silence for the Punjab Government, which needs to reflect on the rush with which the law was brought into the house and passed. Democracy requires deliberation, criticism, and revisions until a draft is fit to be implemented as law.

It seems the urge to silence opposition is pushing the Punjab Government in the wrong direction. While there are scores of development and public welfare initiatives that the Chief Minister carries to her credit since assuming charge, decisions such as the defamation law reflect very badly on the provincial government’s “performance” capital. A law becomes unfit for execution if it lacks clarity on otherwise complicated and hard-to-define terms, such as ‘defamation’ itself.

When the sphere of defamation, and hence the law, extends to digital platforms, laws have to be much more carefully crafted. Experts on existing digital laws must be stakeholders in the process of drafting new laws. With vague definitions and overlaps with previous laws, the defamation law certainly needs amendments. However, it would have been far better if this work was done earlier without the involvement of the court. The government would have been better served hashing out all these objections in the assembly before passing the law.

All members in the assemblies need to realize that it is upon them to lay down better practices for years to come. Mere voting processes do not constitute a healthy democracy. Discussion on policy and laws does. Instead of overburdening the judiciary, the house must keep its matters in order. We are clearly in need of more refined procedures and due regard for due process of formulating laws.

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