Home WorldNews National HRCP meeting calls for repeal of Punjab Defamation Act amid fears of national firewall, greater censorship

National HRCP meeting calls for repeal of Punjab Defamation Act amid fears of national firewall, greater censorship

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ISLAMABAD: A national roundtable meeting on Friday the 28th participated in by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), journalists, digital rights experts and civil society members, drew the state’s attention to receding civic spaces and democracy in the country.

Law and policy expert Muhammad Aftab Alam discussed key aspects of the recently passed Punjab Defamation Act 2024. Pointing out radical changes in definitions of key terms such as ‘broadcasting’, ‘newspaper’ and ‘journalist’, he criticized the institution of a parallel judicial system under the law and imposition of the burden of proof on defendants.

Journalist and researcher Adnan Rehmat said the law exceptionalized political and state elites and legalized discrimination. HRCP Council Member Farhatullah Babar added that the law was yet another step in the militarization of the state and society, and was tantamount to overwriting other laws such as those governing the right to information.

Co-founder of Media Matters, Sadaf Khan, discussed the speculation surrounding the government’s plans to install a digital firewall and said this would broaden the scope of censorship by monitoring Internet traffic. It was an ill-thought plan that had bred fear and mistrust, she said. Founder of MMFD Asad Baig added that such a move would have a serious economic impact on freelance work and online trading.

Academic and journalist Tauseef Ahmed Khan traced the history of censorship in the legacy media and chalked out a plan of action. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists president Afzal Butt said that civil society must hold social media platforms accountable for blocking content on Kashmir and Gaza.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said that the “establishment” must be held accountable for its continuous overreach in such matters. Senior journalist Sohail Sangi added that the working conditions for media persons and press freedom were closely linked.

Participants recommended repealing the Punjab Defamation Act at once, adding that ‘digital rights should be recognised in the Constitution’ and conversation on amending the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 should also be revived. Finally, a law criminalizing enforced disappearances, used frequently to quell dissenting narratives, must be passed.

HRCP co-chair Munizae Jahangir felt that journalists, lawyers and activists must unite and consolidate their demands from Parliament. HRCP Islamabad vice-chair Nasreen Azhar agreed, adding that activists must be more organized in countering online disinformation.

HRCP secretary-general Harris Khalique concluded the roundtable by noting that an anti-poor political agenda was being pushed forward. “A nexus between the political leadership, big business and the state establishment is apparent,” he said, adding that to combat such repressive tactics, all rights-based movements must come together to develop a charter of demands that can be presented to Parliament.

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