Islamabad [Pakistan], April 10 (ANI): From Pakistani federal ministers to opposition leaders to the legal fraternity, people from across the divide have criticised the approval of a bill by the country's National Assembly's standing committee, which proposed up to two years imprisonment and a fine for those who "intentionally ridicule" Pakistan armed forces.
Federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said it is an "absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalise criticism".
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has also asked the government to withdraw the proposed amendment, Pakistan's Dawn reported.
"Absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalise criticism, respect is earned, cannot be imposed on people. I strongly feel instead of new such laws contempt of court laws should be repealed," Minster for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.
He did not mention the bill, but tweeted in response to a tweet by senior journalist Mazhar Abbas who said: "Citizens were free to criticise the parliament, politicians and media but the rest is national interest."
His tweets come after the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Interior, headed by Raja Khurram Nawaz of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, had on Wednesday approved the bill to make an amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to take action against those who "intentionally ridicule armed forces".
Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, while reacting to Fawad Chaudhry's tweet, said: "Totally agree. Cannot state it strongly enough."
Several people fear that the amendment could be misused to launch a crackdown against dissenters.
The bill states that anyone held guilty of the said offence could face up to two years imprisonment or a fine that may extend to Rs 500,000, or both.
The bill, titled Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020, introduced by PTI legislator Amjid Ali Khan, was approved by the NA committee amid strong objections from Agha Rafiullah of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Marriyum Aurangzeb of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
The PPP said in a statement on Thursday that it rejected any attempts to further gag the fundamental right of freedom of expression in the name of preventing defamation and disrespect of the armed forces.
PPP leader Farhatullah Babar expressed grave concern over the bill and said Section 500 of the PPC already provided punishment for the defamation of anyone, and the addition of Section 500-A was aimed only at gagging freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, in the name of national security. It is not acceptable and will be opposed at every platform, he said.
Thie bill Babar said was liable to be grossly misused in the name of national security as Section 295-C had been misused in the name of religion.
"Defence forces working within their constitutional limits are universally admired and do not need any legislation to protect their honour and respect. Similarly, no legislation can stop people from questioning those who transgress their limits with impunity," he said. (ANI)