Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Parvaiz Elahi has notified amendments to the Punjab Privileges Amendment Bill 2021, following backlash and protests from the journalist community.
Despite these amendments, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Lahore-based Joint Action Committee (JAC) have rejected the amended Bill, saying the change is an attempt at cooling down the tempers of journalists.
— PFUJ Official (@OfficialPfuj) July 2, 2021
“The PFUJ and Action Committee reject the amended bill as notified by the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly on Monday through a press release and demand that Section 21 of the controversial bill be totally abolished,” PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfikar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said in a joint press statement.
— PFUJ Official (@OfficialPfuj) July 6, 2021
The law was adopted unanimously by all the political parties, including PTI, PMLQ, PPP and PMLN. It allows the house’s handpicked “judicial committee” to hold a summary trial to penalise any journalist or bureaucrat for breach of a privilege of the house or any of its committee or a member.
“This bill is equivalent to a martial law being imposed within the assembly. The Speaker receives unrestricted powers to take action against a journalist for just the suspicion that a journalist’s news might cause harm,” former president of PFUJ Afzal Butt told DRM News.
According to a press release issued by the Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, many controversial clauses had been omitted from the Bill under Section 21 which empowers the Speaker to add or delete any section of the bill.
سپیکر پنجاب اسمبلی چودھری پرویز الہی کا شکریہ جنہوں نے پی ایف یو جے کے احتجاج پر پنجاب اسمبلی کے متنازعہ بل کی شقیں ختم کر دی ہیں اور نوٹیفکیشن بھی جاری کر دیا گیا ہے۔ pic.twitter.com/WFg2I0Yc6l
— afzal butt (@Afzalbutt01) July 5, 2021
“We are against Section 21 of the Bill itself, as it will serve as a hanging sword over the journalists as it empowers the Speakers to add or delete any clause in the bill without even the approval of the Assembly,” the joint statement said.
The PFUJ also requested the JAC to consider setting up a permanent protest camp outside the Punjab Assembly or on the Mall. The PFUJ asked all unions of journalists in Pakistan to prepare a list of journalists who could volunteer to join the protest camp in Lahore.
Meanwhile, nationwide rallies were held across the country at PFUJ’s behest, where journalist unions demanded withdrawal of the Punjab Assembly privilege bill, which they claimed was anti-journalist.
Rallies were held in Lahore outside the Punjab Assembly, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi, Multan, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad and Sukkur. The protestors held black flags at all the press clubs as a symbol of protest against the controversial Bill.
It should be noted that although amendments have been made to the Bill, the introduction of such legislation may indicate a precedent for similar legislation in the future.
The PFUJ also noted that since the election of PTI, media has been facing censorship, as television channels are forced to terminate outspoken anchors and columnists, and attacks on journalists have increased but there have been no arrests made.
On July 5, the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) anti-terrorism cell sent a notice to journalist Nadeem Malik for his April 28 discussion about Judge Arshad Malik’s video scandal on his show. In his program, Malik stated only that he could not disclose what two important personalities had told him about the situation. The FIA sent him a notice, asking him to provide this information to the agency. On July 27 last year, the Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court ruled that the Judge Arshad Malik case was not related to terrorism. Following the verdict, the case was transferred to the Anti-Cyber Crime Court and is now being heard there. In such cases, legal experts have declared the notice of the FIA anti-terrorism wing illegal.
This notice came after the FIA was held accountable for sending notices to journalists under PECA without clarifying what rule the journalist had broken or why they were being summoned, resulting in the Islamabad High Court demanding that the FIA practice more caution and establish SOPs for sending such notices.