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The Financial Express

Pakistani lawmaker seeks to criminalise criticism of military

| Updated: September 17, 2020 18:26:19


Commandos from the Special Services Group (SSG) march during Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 23, 2019 — reuters/Files Commandos from the Special Services Group (SSG) march during Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 23, 2019 — reuters/Files

A Pakistani ruling party parliamentarian has introduced legislation seeking to jail anyone who “ridicules or brings into disrepute or defames” the military, according to records posted on parliament’s website on Wednesday.

Civil rights groups and opposition parties have long held that the military meddles in politics and had supported crackdowns on critical voices, an allegation the military denies.

“The purpose of this amendment is to prevent hatred and disrespectful behaviour against the Armed Forces,” says the bill, presented by Amjad Ali Khan, chairman of parliament’s standing committee on defence.

The bill seeks up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees ($3,012.59).

Information Minister Shibli Faraz did not respond to a request for comment.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has a simple majority in the lower house of parliament but not in the upper house where it cannot pass legislation without opposition support.

“If the powerful quarters intend to get it passed and make it law, they will do it,” said opposition senator Pervaiz Rashid of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. “I fear it will be misused.”

One South Asia legal expert, Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists, said the move was unnecessary given the constitution already guarantees the armed forces’ sanctity.

The introduction of the bill coincides with controversy around reporting by Pakistani news website FactFocus of allegations that a former general, Asim Saleem Bajwa, did not declare millions of dollars of family assets in June as a special adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bajwa denies the allegations. Bajwa also became chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor after he retired last year.

Last week, police arrested a journalist on charges of defaming the army. Police also registered cases against two other journalists on charges of maligning the military.

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