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PFUJ, PBC, HRCP, SHCBA concerned over proposed amendment in law

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) are deeply concerned about the proposed amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code 1898, by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior, which has recommended that persons who 'disrespect' or 'intentionally ridicule' the armed forces be fined or imprisoned. The PFUJ, PBC and HRCP believe that this amendment is ultra vires to the Constitution and contradicts Article 19, which protects the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the journalists, lawyers and human rights bodies said in a joint press release issued here on Friday

Expressing their alarm, PBC Vice Chairman Khushdil Khan, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi said that the amendment was designed to usurp citizens' rights and civil liberties, which were already being muzzled by the government. They added that the people of Pakistan were well aware of the importance of state institutions, including the armed forces, and did not need an amendment to prove this.

The leadership of the PFUJ, PBC and HRCP further said that respect was earned and could not be enforced through laws. The proposed amendment intentionally or unintentionally makes the institution controversial by setting out that military officers need a punitive law to be enforced against their own people. They urged both the parliament and government to refrain from framing such laws that would also be seen as a blot on Pakistan's image in the international community.

Our correspondent adds from Karachi: Adopting a resolution, Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) on Friday said that bar is firmly of the view that armed forces of Pakistan are subordinate departments of the ministry of defence. The armed forces like other departments and government personnel who serve the nation like the police or health workers or teachers should enjoy the respect of the people.

The bar was of the view that this respect must be genuinely earned and cannot be commanded under threat of imprisonment.

SHBCA said that it is right of the people of a democratic country to freely criticize or even mock any government body or department, including the armed forces, without living under the hanging sword of prosecution as there should be no sacred cows in a democratic polity.

The bar association considered the proposed amendment to be another attack on freedom of media (which was already under a partial gag) and on the freedom of expression generally and to be clear violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. The bar association also resolved to oppose and resist any such amendment before all possible forums to the hilt.