Home Latest News Punjab Governor Claims He ‘Tried’ to Stop Defamation Bill from Becoming Law

Punjab Governor Claims He ‘Tried’ to Stop Defamation Bill from Becoming Law

PTI says it will join journalists in challenging implementation of new legislation

by Staff Report

File photo

Punjab Governor Saleem Haider on Sunday reiterated that he had tried to prevent the passage of a controversial defamation law into law, stressing the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was against the legislation passed by the Punjab Assembly last month.

“I tried to stop the defamation bill as governor,” he claimed to media in Dubai, where he is currently on a personal visit. A day earlier, interim Punjab Governor Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan signed the bill into law in the absence of Haider, triggering outrage from journalist bodies who have challenged the law in court over it infringing on their rights.

On May 20, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024 despite resistance from both opposition lawmakers and journalists and rights bodies. Under the law, aggrieved parties are granted the benefit of the doubt in cases of defamation, with anyone accused of slander required to prove in court they did not commit any defamation. The law also classifies “constitutional office-holders” as a separate category, raising fears the law could be misused as a means to stifle dissent.

“I did not sign the bill. However, it would become law automatically after 15 days,” the governor said, noting after the 18th Amendment a governor has limited powers to block the passage of any bill. Maintaining that he believed the law’s core aim to prevent defamation through social media was laudable, he said the government should have consulted with journalists and resolved their complaints to prevent controversy.

Following the acting governor’s approval of the bill, a Joint Action Committee (JAC) of media bodies has announced it would boycott coverage of the Punjab government’s official events, as well as the upcoming budget sessions. It has also vowed to take legal action against it, adding that political parties, bar councils and national and international rights bodies would be approached to garner support for the repeal of the law.

In this regard, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has announced it would challenge the legislation in court and was also considering joining journalists in their protest movement. Addressing media, PTI leader Malik Ahmed Khan Bhachar claimed the issue had also “exposed” PPP, as it lent “tacit” support to the law while claiming to oppose it.

Bhachar, who serves as the opposition leader in Punjab Assembly, claimed the governor had traveled abroad “to provide an opportunity to the speaker to become acting governor and sign the bill into law.” He also defended the PTI’s attempt to pass a similar law during its time in government, claiming it was withdrawn after protests while the incumbent government had ignored the complaints.

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