Punjab Assembly adopts defamation law amid protests

LAHORE   -   Despite the reservations expressed by the journalist community, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the controversial defamation law with a majority vote rejecting all the amendments proposed by the Opposition.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mujtaba Shuja ur Rehman presented the “Punjab Defamation Bill 2024” in the Assembly. The speaker allowed the Opposition to present its amendments, but they were eventually rejected by the Treasury.    

The Opposition tore apart copies of the bill and termed it a black law. Members of the Press Gallery Committee boycotted Assembly proceedings and also staged a protest demonstration in front of the Assembly building.

The bill will apply to print, electronic and social media. Under the bill, defamation cases can be filed for spreading false and unrealistic news. The bill will also apply to fake news spread via YouTube, TikTok, X/Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Legal action will be taken under the law for news that harms an individual’s private life and public standing.

Special tribunals will be established for defamation cases, which will decide the case within six months. A fine amounting to three million rupees will be imposed on the journalists if they are proven guilty of defamation.

In case of accusations against individuals holding constitutional positions, a bench of the Lahore High Court will be authorized to hear the case. Legal assistance from the government legal team will be available for women and transgender individuals for their cases.

Earlier, the government rejected the suggestion of journalistic organizations to defer the bill to make it acceptable to all stakeholders. Journalistic organizations in a meeting with the Punjab Information Minister Azma Zahid Bukhari had demanded a few days’ delay in the bill, wanting to present their suggestions about the bill.

The Opposition submitted over ten amendments regarding the bill in the Punjab Assembly.

Opposition Leader Ahmed Khan Bhachar termed the bill a draconian law, asserting that the Opposition will not vote in its favor. He suggested that the bill be sent to a select committee for review, but Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mujtaba Shuja ur Rehman opposed sending the bill back to the committee.

“Sufficient discussion has already taken place in the committee, and there is no need to send it back to the Select Committee,” the minister maintained.

Opposition member Ahmad Rashid Bhatti argued that introducing the defamation bill violates Article- 8 of the Constitution.”Clause 23 of this law also conflicts with the Defamation Law 2024,” he told the House. He noted that after the Fourth Amendment, the word ‘defamation’ was removed from the Constitution, and now it was being reinstated into the law. “Articles 202 and 203 of the Constitution are also in conflict with the defamation bill, he added..


Also, Advocate General Khalid Ishaq appeared in the Punjab Assembly to present arguments in favor of the bill. He said there was no room in any civilized society to make allegations in the name of freedom of expression. “After making allegations, one must provide evidence,” said Khalid Ishaq. He further stated that after the 18th Amendment, the Assembly has the authority to legislate on such issues.

“Article 203 deals with making rules for the subordinate judiciary. “The executive should make the laws for the subordinate judiciary. The right that the Legislative Assembly lost will be regained through this bill,”, Advocate general remarked, adding that a defamation request by a government official must go to a High Court judge.

Opposition member Rana Shahbaz told the chair that Opposition members were not present in the committee formed for the defamation bill.”One of our members was out of the country and another was busy in court proceedings. Hence, only one opposition member was present in the meeting regarding the defamation bill, and his input was not considered,” said Rana Shahbaz. The Opposition member pleaded that the tribunals for the defamation bill should be appointed at the discretion of the Chief Justice. If appointed by the government, it will be detrimental,” he warned.

Following the passage of the defamation bill, the speaker prorogued the Assembly session.

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