The Pakistani government has prepared a bill that proposes to change the criminal law and states that anyone who ridicules or scandalises the country's powerful army and the judiciary through any medium will undergo a five-year prison sentence or will be fined up to Rs 1 million or both.
The draft bill was vetted by the Ministry of Law and Justice and initiated by the Ministry of Interior for the prime minister and federal cabinet and it aims to amend the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Dawn newspaper reported.
A cabinet summary outlines the aim of the soon-to-be proposed bill clearly as lately social media has been rife with criticism of the army and courts.
According to sources in the Ministry of Interior, the summary and the bill will be forwarded to the federal cabinet soon, the report said.
Titled Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023, the bill suggests a new section 500A. The new section is titled 'Intentional ridiculing or scandalising of the state institutions etc.' It says that whoever makes, publishes, circulates any statement or disseminates information, through any medium, with an intention to ridicule or scandalise the judiciary, the armed forces or any of their member will be guilty of an offence punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 1 million or with both.
It also says that the offender will be arrested without a warrant and the offence will be non-bailable and non-compoundable which can only be challenged in a sessions court.
The cabinet summary states that recently the country has witnessed a spate of scandalous, derogatory and vicious attacks on certain institutions of the state, including the judiciary and armed forces.
It adds that it is well-known that a deliberate cyber campaign has been launched by certain wings for self-serving motives with the objective of inciting and nurturing hatred against important state institutions and their officials, the report said.
It also states that such attacks are focused on undermining the integrity, stability and independence of the country's state institutions. The summary says that judicial and army officials do not have the opportunity to step forward and negate scandalous, derogatory remarks while appearing in the media.
When approached for a comment on the planned legislation, PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the Dawn that he had not seen the draft but there had to be "some limit" to defaming someone.
"Everywhere in the world there is a defamation law and this does not happen that anyone comes up willy-nilly and says whatever they want," he said.
Later in the day in a tweet, Abbasi distanced himself from his comments and said he "simply cannot lend support to any draconian legislation".
"I believe that Pakistan needs defamation laws with financial recourse to protect everyone from unsubstantiated accusations," he explained.
A similar draft bill was approved by a National Assembly (NA) standing committee in April 2021 which proposed up to two years imprisonment and a fine for those who "intentionally ridicule the armed forces".
The draft had drawn the ire of politicians from across the divide as well as the legal fraternity.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)