Pakistan journalists’ union condemns government’s ‘fascist’ move to amend defamation law

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The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has vehemently criticised the federal and Punjab governments for their recent attempts to amend the defamation law, denouncing it as a fascist manoeuvre aimed at quelling dissent and suppressing media freedom, Dawn reported. In a joint statement released on Friday, PFUJ President Afzal Butt and Secretary General Arshad Ansari lambasted the authorities, accusing them of pushing forward with authoritarian measures that undermine the ability of journalists to fulfil their professional obligations and hold those in power accountable.

The PFUJ expressed alarm over the Punjab government’s decision to revise the defamation law, while also highlighting Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s disclosure of plans to penalise individuals involved in the dissemination of classified documents, as reported by Dawn. According to the union, Asif outlined punitive measures, including a two-year imprisonment term, for individuals found responsible for such actions.

The PFUJ’s statement follows the unveiling of a proposed amendment known as the Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, which the union deems more draconian than the Defamation Ordinance of 2002 introduced during the tenure of military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf. Describing the bill as containing an overly broad definition of defamation and imposing harsh financial penalties and sweeping restrictions on commentary related to ongoing legal proceedings, the PFUJ asserted that its primary objective is to instill fear among those considering criticism or airing grievances against those in positions of authority.

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The union of journalists questioned the rationale behind amending defamation laws, suggesting that the process lacked transparency and asserting that existing legislation adequately addresses defamation concerns. Accusing Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz of adopting dictatorial tactics, the PFUJ leaders decried efforts to silence journalists through the threat of legal action, fines, and arrests, calling on the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to defend press freedom and oppose the proposed legislation.

Asserting that any legislative changes should involve consultation with all stakeholders, the PFUJ accused Nawaz’s administration of mirroring the repressive tactics employed by past military regimes, particularly highlighting concerns raised by Defence Minister Asif’s statements, which they interpreted as echoing anti-democratic sentiments. Warning of widespread opposition from the journalist community, the union vowed to launch a nationwide campaign against what they perceive as fascist measures by the government, Dawn reported.