Opposition lawmakers oppose legislation, noting it violates Article 19 of the Constitution
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior on Wednesday approved legislation to make any “intentional” ridicule of the armed forces a punishable offense that carries either a fine of up to Rs. 500,000, a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, or both. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2020 will now be placed before the National Assembly for final approval before being passed into law.
The bill, which would make amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, was introduced by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker Amjad Ali Khan. It proposes amending Section 500 of the PPC, which currently calls for punishment to anyone who “defames another” with simple imprisonment for a maximum term of two years, a fine, or both.
The amendment, which would be titled Section 500-A, reads: “Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, he shall be guilty of an offense punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both.”
The bill was opposed by both the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), but was passed by the committee by one vote after the committee chairman voted in its favor. Both opposition parties contended that the bill should not be approved as it violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of speech.
A working paper on the legislation, submitted to the committee by the Interior Ministry, said it had been referred to General Headquarters, as well as the administrations of the Islamabad Capital Territory, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for their views. According to the document, the legislation is required due to an increase in “incidents of defaming the armed forces,” which are “demoralizing for the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”
Noting that all stakeholders had not yet responded, the working paper said that the Khyber-Pakhtunkwha Home Department had refused to endorse the bill, as it created conflict among existing constitutional and statutory provisions, and had potential for misuse. The provincial government—led by the PTI—said the law would also create discrimination with other law enforcement agencies and public offices in violation of the Constitution.
The ICT administration, meanwhile, endorsed the proposed legislation.