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LHC to hear plea challenging Punjab defamation law tomorrow

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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday fixed for hearing an application challenging the controversial Punjab Defamation Law, which was given assent by the acting Punjab governor over the weekend.

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

The law, which had already drawn much flak from journalists, civil society organisations, as well as the opposition, however, soon landed in the LHC after a joint petition was filed by two journalists challenging its legality.

The petitioner’s counsel requested that the LHC suspend the “operation” of the defamation bill. However, the registrar’s office finished scrutinising the petition on Monday and overruled the application.

When the petition was initially filed, it did not have a copy of the gazette notification attached to it. Once that was submitted on Monday, the registrar’s office issued its decision, said the petitioners’ counsel Advocate Nadeem Sarwar.

However, the petition was resubmitted after resolving the registrar’s objections and was subsequently fixed for hearing on Tuesday (tomorrow) by LHC Justice Muhammad Amjad Rafiq at 9am.

The petition, filed by journalists Jaffar Ahmad Yar and Riaz Ahmad Raja, argued that Sections 2m (the definition of a journalist), 2o (the definition of a newspaper), 3 (Defamation actionable), 4 (Defences), 8 (Establishment of Tribunal), 11 (Procedure of Tribunal), 12 (No comment on pending proceedings), 13 (Leave to defend), 15 (Preliminary Decree), 21 (Consequences of proof of defamation) and 23 (Qanun-i-Shahadat not to apply) of the Punjab defamation bill were unconstitutional.

Specifically, the petition argued that the bill violated Articles 2-A (The Objectives Resolution), 9 (Security of person),10-A (Right to fair trial), 14 (Inviolability of dignity of man), 18 (Freedom of trade, business or profession), 19 (Freedom of speech), 19-A (Right to information), 25 (Equality of citizens) and 175 (Establishment and Jurisdiction of Courts) of the Constitution.

“The Punjab Assembly recently passed a Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024 […] despite significant concerns from the journalist fraternity, human rights organisations and opposition legislators,” the petition read, arguing that the bill could be termed as a “draconian law” and an “authoritarian move”.

PPP distances itself from bill

Asked about the PPP’s stance on the Punjab Defamation Law during a press conference in Karachi today, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon maintained that the party had nothing to do with the bill.

“The PPP was not a part of the law passed in Punjab. [The] Punjab governor, who belongs to PPP, did not sign it,” he added.

The Sindh information minister reiterated that the PPP did not involve itself in “things like this”.

“When Imran Khan’s government was in power, he signed Peca into law in an effort to control journalists,” he said.

“The PPP is one of the most victimised parties of all,” he added. “When we were in government in 2008, a major campaign was run in the media to malign our image. In spite of that, we stand with the media today.”