Defamation Ordinance Amendment Bill: Amendments aimed at terrorising press: HRCP
LAHORE: The proposed amendment to the Defamation Ordinance is aimed at terrorising the press, a statement by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said on Wednesday.
The amendment seeks to make defamation a criminal offence under the Pakistan Penal Code, and targets publications.
The statement said that HRCP stands by press bodies opposing the law, as it would have a negative impact on free expression. While it can be hoped that the prime minister (PM) is sincere in his assurance of reconsidering the proposed amendment, the problem lies in broader government policies, which target the media, the statement said.
Efforts to crack down on opposition by threats and forcing the media into submission by withholding advertisements have grown blatant over the last two years, the statement noted. Despite strong reservations voiced by newspaper editors, owners and professional journalists, calls to amend the media laws have gone unheeded.
While the freedom of information law has been enforced, journalists complain that it remains impossible to obtain information. The rules of procedure insist on provision of detailed dates, titles and serial numbers in requests for information. Since these are frequently unavailable, access to official documents remains as restricted as before, journalists say.
The arrest of Sarwar Mujahid in Okara several days ago to prevent him from reporting on the growing violence faced by tenants of the military farms in Okara is just one indication of the growing threat to journalists, the statement alleged. Mr Mujahid had also been detained in 2003 for his reports on the situation on the farms, and charged with terrorist activities. Reporters in the tribal areas also face multiple restrictions that prevent them from performing their duties, said the statement.
The HRCP statement said that suggested amendments to the Defamation Ordinance are aimed at toughening it.