Punjab's new defamation law not to affect freedom of speech, assures Azma Bokhari

Bokhari announces postponing legislation's approval till Sunday, says govt is open to hold talks with journalists

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Punjab Minister for Information Azma Bokhari speaks to the media in Lahore on May 15, 2024. — Screengrab/YouTube/Hum News Live
  • Defamation cases to be decided within 180 days: minister.
  • High court judge to be appointed as tribunal to hear cases.
  • Accused to pay Rs3 million in damages if proven guilty.

The Punjab government Wednesday reassured that its proposed defamation law will not have adverse effects on freedom of speech.

"Professional journalists will not be bothered by this act," Punjab's Minister for Information Azma Bokhari said while addressing a press conference in Lahore.

"Only those journalists who fabricate news while sitting in their homes will have an issue [with this legislation]," the minister added.

Her remarks come after Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz's government tabled the new anti-defamatory legislation in the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday — a move which has faced some resistance from various sections of the society including journalists.

As per The News, President Lahore Press Club Arshad Ansari is among such voices and has termed the move as the government's attempt to stifle dissenting voices which amounts to a "direct assault on the pillars of democracy."

"The LPC,  in collaboration with fellow journalist organisations, will devise a robust strategy to combat this draconian law [...] we urge the Punjab government to reconsider its stance and uphold the values of democracy and freedom of the press," Ansari added.

Elaborating on the details of the proposed legislation, the information minister revealed that notices will be issued to those who speak without backing their statements with relevant proof.

The accused will be asked to choose three dates for appearing before the court within 21 days and the cases will be concluded in 180 days, she said, adding that the legislation will apply on social media platforms as well.

"If the charge of defamation is proved, Rs3 million will have to be paid [by the guilty] in damages," Bokhari said adding that if someone believes the defamation to be more than the said amount then he will have to prove it.

She also underscored that the accused will be allowed to defend himself if he wishes to do so.

Meanwhile, a judge of the high court will be given the status of a tribunal and the party, affected by the alleged defamation, will be able to file a case via the tribunal, the minister said.

The tribunal's judge will only have to hear two cases per day, she added.

However, Bokhari highlighted that, as per the proposed law, the case registered under it will be a civil one and will neither have any police role nor it will provision for any arrest and incarceration.

Responding to the concerns raised by journalists and other sections of the society, the information minister said that the government has decided not to proceed with approval of the said legislation on CM Maryam Nawaz's orders.

She said that journalist organisations — having reservations about the law, can communicate their objections to the government till Sunday.

"The CM says that we are ready to hold talks with all journalist organisations," Bokhari said, adding that anyone having an objection to any specific provision of the defamation law can submit it in writing by the end of this week.