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Punjab Assembly Passes Controversial Defamation Bill Amid Opposition Protests and Journalist Boycott

LAHORE: Amidst vehement opposition uproar, the Punjab Assembly passed the controversial Defamation Bill 2024 on Monday, aiming to combat the proliferation of fake news across various media platforms.

Tensions escalated as Punjab’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman, introduced the contentious bill, prompting journalists to boycott the proceedings in protest.

The legislation targets the rampant dissemination of misinformation on social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It enables the filing of defamation cases against those spreading false information.

The bill proposes hefty fines of up to Rs3 million and the establishment of special tribunals to expedite defamation cases, mandating verdicts within six months. Notably, allegations against individuals holding constitutional positions will be adjudicated by the high court.

Additionally, the government is set to provide legal aid to women and transgender individuals embroiled in defamation cases through an official legal team.

Opposition Leader Ahmed Khan Bhachar condemned the bill as a “draconian law,” asserting their refusal to participate in its enactment.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed profound concerns over the bill, citing its troubling provisions. HRCP criticized the establishment of parallel judicial structures and the expedited resolution of defamation claims, warning of potential infringements on freedom of expression.

Moreover, the journalist community vehemently rejected the Defamation Bill 2024, denouncing it as undemocratic. President of the Lahore Press Club, Arshad Ansari, questioned the necessity of new legislation in light of existing laws such as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA). He vehemently defended press freedom, criticizing the government’s attempt to exert control over the media despite previously advocating for press freedom while in opposition.

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