Tuesday Jul 06 2021
Web Desk

Punjab Assembly speaker okays amendment to journalists bill

Web Desk
A member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines displays a placard during a protest outside Malacanang Palace. Photo: Reuters
A member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines displays a placard during a protest outside Malacanang Palace. Photo: Reuters

  • PFUJ rejects amendments to Punjab Privileges Amendment Bill 2021. 
  • PFUJ, JAC term amended bill an eyewash to cool journalists' anger. 
  • PFUJ warns of countrywide protests if controversial clauses are not abolished. 

LAHORE: Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi Monday notified amendments to the Punjab Privileges Amendment Bill 2021 after protests by the journalist community. 

Read more: New law gives Punjab Assembly powers to arrest journalists, bureaucrats, lawmakers

In the Amendment Bill, one schedule was included in the 1972 Act.

Elahi, in a statement, said he held journalists in great esteem and the clauses that had sparked controversy, had been removed from the bill after their protest. 

However, journalists were still not happy with the amended bill, terming it an eyewash that was aimed to placate journalists' anger. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Lahore-based Joint Action Committee (JAC) both said they rejected the amended Punjab Assembly Privileges Bill 2021. 

“The PFUJ and Action Committee reject the amended bill as notified by the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly on Monday through a press release and demand that Section 21 of the controversial bill be totally abolished,” PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfikar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi said in a joint press statement.

The bill has been adopted by all parties unanimously, including the PTI, the PML-Q, the PML-N and the PPP. As per the law, a judicial committee handpicked by the House can penalise, in a summary trial, any journalist or bureaucrat for breach of a privilege of the house or any of its committee or a member. 

Elahi said many controversial clauses of the bill had been omitted under Section 21, which empowers the speaker of the assembly to do so. 

“We are against Section 21 of the bill itself, as it will serve as a hanging sword over journalists, as it empowers the speakers to add or delete any clause in the bill without even the approval of the Assembly,” the joint statement said.

“We demand the immediate abolition of this clause and will continue our struggle against these draconian powers till it is abolished," added the statement. 

The PFUJ has asked the JAC to gear up efforts for a permanent protest camp outside the Punjab Assembly or on Mall Road. The PFUJ has called upon all journalist associations and bodies to prepare a list of journalists who are willing to protest in Lahore. 

“This is the beginning of a long fight that the PFUJ is ready to fight, as it did during the martial law regime of Zia-ul-Haq,” the press statement said. 

The PFUJ also commended all the unions of journalists across Pakistan which held protest demonstrations throughout the country on Monday.

The PFUJ lashed out at the government, saying that since the PTI had gotten elected, attacks on "outspoken journalists" had increased, TV channels were forced to fire anchors and more gags were being imposed on print and other forms of media. 

“We warn the government that it will face a tough resistance from journalists, as they will go to the last extent to protect freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan," added the PFUJ. 

New law gives Punjab Assembly powers to arrest journalists, bureaucrats, lawmakers

Under the Act, the Sergeant-at-Arms will the power to arrest any person on the orders of the Speaker, to prevent them from acting in any manner in breach of privileges within the precincts of the Assembly.

The arrests can be made without a warrant, at any place within the “precincts of the Assembly”, which has been defined as the assembly’s courtyard, hall, lobbies, press galleries, rooms, etc.

The new law also allows for the use of “reasonable force as may be necessary” when making the arrests.

As per the bill, the speaker “can in writing direct the arrest and detention in custody” of any member, meaning a journalist, bureaucrat, and/or any lawmaker.

Under the Act, only the Speaker can hear an appeal against the arrest of a member, which is a usurpation of a Judicial function. “The Act is liable to be challenged” in court, the lawyer explained.

For those convicted, the Act allows an appeal within 30 days, but to only the speaker of the Assembly.