Acting Punjab Governor Malik Ahmad Khan signs Defamation Bill 2024

Acting Governor Signs Bill into Law Amidst Journalists' Allegations of Betrayal by PPP.

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Last Friday, Acting Punjab Governor and Punjab Assembly Speaker Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan approved the contentious Punjab Defamation Bill 2024.

The Punjab Assembly approved the bill last month before forwarding it to Punjab Governor Sardar Salim Haider for endorsement. However, the governor declined to sign it, citing reservations. Subsequently, the Punjab government convened a meeting with the governor, but no consensus was reached.

Sources revealed that following the inconclusive meeting with the governor, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) reportedly reached out to President Asif Ali Zardari. It’s purported that President Zardari then recommended that the governor take a leave of absence. The Punjab Governor stated that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) does not support the current bill, despite appearing to stand with the media.

From June 6 to 12, the Punjab governor took a leave of absence. During this period, Punjab Assembly Speaker Malik Ahmad Khan stepped in as the acting governor. Subsequently, on June 7, he signed the bill into effect.

Confirmation was provided by the Governor House regarding the endorsement of the Defamation Bill 2024 by the acting governor. Following the signing, a summary of the bill was forwarded to the Ministry of Law, which will proceed to issue an official notification. Once this notification is issued, the defamation law will be formally enacted in Punjab, thereby extending its jurisdiction to all citizens.

Punjab Assembly

Amid protests from both the opposition and journalists, the Punjab Assembly passed the Defamation Bill 2024 on May 20. This bill, presented by Punjab Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, elicited significant opposition during its passage through the legislative body.

“Subject to the provisions of this Act and any other law for the time being in force, defamation shall be a civil wrong and the person defamed may initiate an action under this Act without proof of actual damage or loss and, where defamation is proved, general damages shall be presumed to have been suffered by the person defamed,” reads the bill.

The law also covers false information shared on YouTube and social media. It sets up special courts to deal with cases about people’s reputations being damaged. These courts have to make decisions within six months.

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Punjab Assembly’s opposition leader Ahmed Khan Bhachar criticized the Defamation Bill 2024, labeling it as a “black law.” He expressed this view after the House rejected all the proposed changes put forward by the opposition. The lawmakers from the opposition benches protested loudly during the session, tearing up copies of the bill in protest.

Journalist leaders felt betrayed by the government after negotiations regarding the bill, believing that their trust was breached.

What are the key features of the law?

As per the Punjab government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the legislation targets false information circulated on social media platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It enables legal actions to be taken against individuals spreading fabricated news stories.

Click Fact Book on Punjab Defamation Law 2024

The Defamation Bill 2024 will be applicable to print, electronic, and social media, allowing defamation cases to be filed for spreading false, fabricated news.

The proposed defamation bill suggests imposing fines of up to Rs3 million for disseminating false information and establishes special tribunals to adjudicate defamation cases, aiming for swift judgments. These tribunals are anticipated to reach decisions within a span of six months.

Furthermore, the bill specifies that cases concerning allegations against individuals holding constitutional posts will be handled by the high court.

Click ‘National Assembly of Pakistan’ Parliamentary History

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