Controversial Defamation Bill Passed by NA
ISLAMABAD – Rejecting opposition’s objections, the ruling coalition on August 19 passed the controversial Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2004 in the National Assembly, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament.
The bill is designed mainly to protect public figures from slander by enhanced punishment, including imprisonment of up to five years and/or a minimum fine of rupees one hundred thousand (Approximately US$ 1,700).
Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was present in the National Assembly to oversee the passage of the Defamation (Amendment) Bill he had vowed to bring at the outset of his brief tenure in office in June.
The vote on the bill came after an unsuccessful move by opposition parties to force an adjournment of the house for lack of quorum following a walkout to protest against Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain’s partiality in admitting their privilege and adjournment motions.
The ruling coalition rejected a motion by the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, the coalition of Islamic parties, to refer the bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to determine whether it was in accord with Quran and Sunnah. The assembly also rejected the motion by the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians to circulate the bill for eliciting public opinion until September 30.
The prime minister intervened in a brief debate after the opposition parties ended their walkout to say that there was no need to refer the bill to the CII because nobody could deny that Islam disallowed falsehood and slander that the law sought to check.
A statement of objects and reasons accompanying the bill complained of a “general tendency to scandalize and defame others, including public figures” to injure their reputation “either for ulterior motives or through irresponsible conduct.
The district court shall have the jurisdiction to try the cases under this ordinance. The bill allows for an appeal against the final decision to the High Court within 30 days and High Court shall decided the appeal within 60 days.
The bill passed by the national assembly omits the controversial Clause 3 in the draft bill originally proposed by the government, relating to the liability of publishers, editor, sub editors and reporters. When the bill was introduced in the National Assembly in June, journalists protested against this clause and termed it against the spirit of the freedom of press.
Opposition members said they feared the law would serve as the sword of Damocles for the press and criticized enhanced punishments.
The bill will now be sent to the Senate today for its approval and after that it has to be signed by the president to become law.