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Pakistan: Punjab parliament passes 'Defamation Bill 2024' amid opposition protest

Lahore: The Punjab Assembly approved the Defamation Bill, 2024, dismissing all amendments suggested by the opposition, Dawn reported.
This decision sparked protests from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-supported Sunni Ittehad Council and journalists reporting on the parliamentary sessions.
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, as per Dawn.
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.
According to Dawn, the draft law proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing "fake news". The tribunal shall decide the case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Pakistani currency (PKR) 3 million. However, in cases of allegations against individuals holding constitutional posts, the high court will hear the cases.
Also, the bill says the government will provide legal assistance to women and transgender individuals in defamation cases through an official legal team.
Earlier, the government refused to send the draft bill to a selected committee consisting of opposition members to involve all stakeholders for consultation, stating that it had already been extensively discussed by the special committee.
Opposition leader Malik Ahmed Khan Bhachhar questioned the rush of the treasury to pass the bill before midnight.
Lawmakers from the SIC protested against the bill by waving placards, chanting slogans, and submitting 10 amendments.
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."
Ahmad Rashid Bhatti, also 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."
PTI-backed SIC legislator, Junaid Afzal Sahi, believed the law was aimed at targeting his party after the media had already been gagged.
In a rare precedent, Advocate-General Khalid Ishaq joined the house proceedings and while responding to the objections raised by the opposition, read out some important points of the bill.
The journalists after boycotting house proceedings gathered outside the assembly building and protested against the 'black law'.
Lahore Press Club president Arshad Ansari told the protesting journalists that the government had engaged them in talks for more than two hours.
He noted that the government refused to postpone the bill's approval for one week to allow stakeholders to reach a consensus.

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