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‘Draconian, authoritative’ Punjab defamation law challenged in LHC

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LAHORE: The Punjab defamation law was challenged in the Lahore High Court on Saturday, with the petitioners calling it “unconstitutional, unlawful and against the principles of the law.”

On May 20, the Punjab Assembly passed the Defamation Law, 2024 rejecting all amendments proposed by the opposition amid protests by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council and journalists covering parliamentary proceedings.

The SIC members tore apart copies of the bill after the house passed it through a voice vote.

Vetted by the Special Committee-1 in the absence of standing committees, the bill was tabled by Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman after the PML-N government refused to delay voting on the bill, even for a week, at the request of journalists.

A day later, the opposition Leader in the National Assembly Omar Ayub Khan rejected the defamation law, saying the people cannot be deprived of the constitutional rights.

“The state means the country, not any institution,” he asserted addressing a gathering hosted by Insaf Lawyers Forum in the Lahore High Court Bar.

Similarly, more than 80 civil society organisations registered their protest against the bill, saying it served as a “draconian and regressive” tool to suppress dissent and criticism and particularly targeted journalists and the wider public.

The petition filed in the LHC today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the Punjab chief minister, provincial governor and ministry of information and culture, and was moved by journalists Jaffar Ahmad Yar and Riaz Ahamad Raja through lawyer Nadeem Sarwar.

The petition noted that the bill was passed in “unusual haste, despite significant concerns from the journalist fraternity, human rights organisations and opposition legislators,” calling it a “draconian law and an authoritative move.”

The bill was deemed “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” on the grounds that it was a duplication of present laws, namely the Defamation Ordinance of 2002 and the Punjab Defamation Act of 2012.

“It would have been better to amend existing laws rather than coming up with a whole new piece of legislation,” the petition stated.

It contested that the definition of terms in the bill, such as “journalist” and “newspaper” were “vague, irrational and ambiguous.”

The petition argued that section 3 of the bill, which provides for initiation of defamation claims, has been presented without any proof, which is violative of Article 10-A and principle law of evidence.

“It is ridiculous, unconstitutional and unlawful to allow a person to bring claim of defamation without any proof,” the petition said.

“This honorable court be please to declare that the section 2(m)(o), 3, 4, 8, 11,12,13,15,21,23 of the Punjab defamation act 2024 ultra vires to the article 2-A, 9,10-A, 14, 18, 19, 19-A, 25 and 175 of the Constitution of Islamic republic of Pakistan 1973.

“It is further prayed that till the final disposal of the petition operation of impugned ordinance may kindly be suspended,” the petition stated.