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Punjab governor has hinted at the “possibility” of sending the defamation bill back for review

Punjab Governor Sardar Saleem Haider hinted at the possibility of sending the Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, back to the assembly for further consultation and review amid uproar over its passing.

The bill was passed by the Punjab Assembly on Monday, rejecting all opposition-proposed amendments amidst protests by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council and journalists covering the parliamentary proceedings. SIC members tore apart copies of the bill after it was passed through a voice vote.

Over 80 civil society organizations registered their protest on Tuesday, denouncing the bill as a gross infringement on fundamental rights of freedom of expression and press freedom.

Additionally, the Judicial Activism Panel, a Lahore-based public interest forum, urged the Punjab government to reconsider the bill, labeling it as “draconian,” “illogical,” and a violation of superior court judgments.

In an intriguing turn, even the PPP, a PML-N government ally, distanced itself from the contentious bill. Punjab Governor Sardar Saleem Haider, speaking on program ‘Capital Talk,’ discussed the possibility of sending the bill back to the assembly for review.

He acknowledged the bill’s controversy nationwide and emphasized the need for reevaluation. Governor Haider stressed the importance of thorough discussion with all stakeholders, including journalist associations, to address concerns and find an amicable solution. While acknowledging the merit of the bill, particularly in addressing issues on social media, he emphasized the necessity of addressing all concerns before implementation.

He expressed his intention to review the bill with his legal team and emphasized the importance of collective consideration by all parties involved. Governor Haider expressed confidence that through consensus and dialogue, a solution could be reached.

Defamation bill

The bill, presented by Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, was reviewed by Special Committee-1 in the absence of standing committees.

Despite journalists’ requests for a one-week delay, the PML-N government insisted on immediate voting. The proposed law includes the establishment of a special tribunal to address “fake news,” with cases to be decided within six months, potentially resulting in fines of up to Rs3 million.

Allegations against individuals in constitutional posts will be heard by the high court. Additionally, the government plans to offer legal assistance to women and transgender individuals in defamation cases. Opposition members requested further consultation with stakeholders, but the government deemed it unnecessary, citing thorough discussion by the special committee.

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