Alarm over proposed law to criminalise institutions’ criticism

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KARACHI: Another international media watchdog has expressed alarm over a law proposed by the government that aims to criminalise criticising the country’s military and judiciary.

In a statement on Tuesday, the International Press Institute (IPI) said it was alarmed by the proposed bill — under which five-year prison terms can he handed to anyone who scandalises or ridicules the military or judiciary — and stressed that the measures would expand on the already restrictive provisions in the criminal code that are increasingly used to silence critical media and independent journalism in Pakistan.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders urged the government not to criminalise criticism of the country’s armed forces as it posed a serious threat to journalistic freedom.

“The Pakistani government must refrain from [weaponising] laws to weaken free speech and press freedom and public institutions must be able to withstand public scrutiny and criticism”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “We call on the government to commit to drafting laws in close cooperation with civil society and human rights experts to mitigate potential human rights and freedom of expression risks.”

The statement also added that journalists were often charged under Pakistan’s criminal code, including Section 505 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, which prohibits the circulation of rumours or alarming news and is often used beyond its legitimate scope to silence journalists who expose corruption or criticise government policies.

Published in Dawn, February 22th, 2023

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