Punjab, Pakistan defamation act passed amid free speech controversy News
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Punjab, Pakistan defamation act passed amid free speech controversy

Pakistan’s Provincial Assembly of the Punjab passed on Monday The Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, which allows the establishment of special tribunals to try individuals who draft, publish or disseminate fake news, according to local outlet Pakistan Today. The act’s passage comes amid protests and free speech concerns from opposition parties.

The official purpose of the bill is to stop fake news, but some news outlets state the bill is “draconian.”

Under the bill, any individual can be found liable for making “false, misleading, and defamatory claims made via print, electronic, and social media against public officials and private citizens,” according to the statement of objects and reasons of the act. Pursuant to the bill, cases before the tribunal would be decided within six months and defendants may be imposed fines of a maximum of Rs3 million.

Article 3 of the act states that “defamation shall be a civil wrong and the person defamed may initiate an action under this Act without proof of actual damage or loss and, where defamation is proved, General Damages shall be presumed to have been suffered by the person defamed.” General Damages are defined in Article 2(k) of the act and require a minimum of 3 million Rupees.

The act was introduced on the 13th of May 2024 by the Minister of Finance and Parliamentary Affairs Mujtaba Shuja Ur Rehman, but presented by Mian Mijtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman. Both are members of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), a center-right and liberal-conservative party. The bill sparked opposition from the Tehreek-e-Insaf political party as the act may pose a hindrance to the freedom of speech in Punjab.

Before the act’s passage, media representatives met Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari with the request to defer the vote by a couple of days.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated in a Monday press release that there are grave concerns over the draft of the act and labeled it as a threat to free expression. Asad Iqbal Butt, the chairperson of the HRCP, stated that the concerns mainly regard the 180-day timeframe in which a defamation claim has to be resolved. In addition, he stated that there is a risk of orders being passed without required due process, compromising court actions.