ISLAMABAD: The opposition Monday attended the sit-in of journalists — picketing the Parliament House to protest the Pakistan Media Development Authority — and vowed to block the passage of the proposed PMDA bill in the parliament.
The sit-in — staged on the call of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) — started on Sunday night concluded in the evening on Monday.
Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and President PMLN Shehbaz Sharif, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, President PDM and JUI-F Fazlur Rehman, former prime minister and opposition leader in the Senate Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Senator Sherry Rehman, Faisal Karim Kundi, Dr Nafisa Shah, Marriyum Aurangzeb, former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani, PKMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and leaders of other opposition parties attended the sit-in.
The opposition announced that if the government forcibly passed a law against the media, it will go to the courts. The opposition feared that the government might pass the media authority bill in the joint sitting of parliament.
After lodging their protest and staging a walkout from the joint sitting of both the houses of the parliament during the speech of President Dr Arif Alvi, the opposition leaders came out to attend the sit-in.
Addressing the protest, Shahbaz Sharif condemned the proposed PMDA as a "draconian" and black law and vowed to not let the government pass legislation on it in the parliament. "All of PDM and opposition parties support journalists, as the the media has always fought for its freedom," he said.
Shehbaz assured that his party and other opposition parties will not allow the government to legislate on the media authority. He said the opposition had protested in the parliament and will stand with the media till this black law was buried.
Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said this was not the first time that journalists were protesting against a black law. “Journalists fought against similar laws by dictators General Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq and General Musharraf,” he said.
He said Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto after taking charge as the prime minister had abolished all restrictions against the journalists. “We had removed all restrictions imposed by General Musharraf and cleansed the Constitution of all such restrictions and black laws through the 18th Amendment,” he said. He said the PPP was against the PECA and PMDA.
“This PMDA is an attack on journalists, democracy, judiciary and the right of employment of journalists. We will oppose this PMDA in parliament and every forum. PPP Jiyalas will join you wherever you give a call all over Pakistan,” he added.
Responding to questions by senior journalists like Hamid Mir, Aasma Shairzi and others, he said the draft of PMDA was the same which the government wanted to impose as an ordinance.
“If the government bulldozes it in the parliament, we will challenge it in courts. We have doubts that this government will pass this law in a joint session of the parliament but we will challenge it at every available forum,” he said.
Chairman PPP said that in today's session the PPP will raise two issues in the parliament. One is the journalists’ struggle against the PMDA and the other sacking of 20,000 employees unjustifiably by the courts.
“If the parliament can reinstate the chief justice of Supreme Court, then why can’t it reinstate the sacked employees?” he asked.
Replying a question about his relations with the opposition politicians, Bilawal said he had very good relations with all of them. He said Fazlur Rehman had been doing politics for decades with the PPP and he had a lot of respect for him.
“We can have difference of opinion politically,” he added. He said every dictator wanted to weaken journalists but they stood by the truth in the era of General Zia and Musharraf. “Journalists have the capacity to wash out this black law called PMDA,” he said.
He said the PPP believed in constructive criticism. “When Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was removing restrictions imposed on journalists by General Zia, people questioned the move and told her they were the people who had criticized her all the time.
“She answered that they want to vent their anger of 10 years so if they want to vent it on me, then let them do it,” he said. JUI-F President Maulana Fazlur Rehman also joined the protest and expressed solidarity with the media workers and civil society members, saying that his party "will not accept the laws that contradict the constitution."
Fazlur Rehman said he called the PMDA ‘Pakistan Media Danda Authority to stifle the media adding that they stood with the media. He said many laws were coming which were against the Constitution.
“We will not remain silent in this regard either and will move forward together,” he said, He said even now a march towards Islamabad was proposed and the PDM will participate in it, and we will invite all parties for the march to Islamabad.
He said that democratic politics is always in the favour of media’s freedom. "All of us are united on the freedom of media, said Fazl, adding that the JUI-D was the first party to decide to oppose the PMDA.
Chairman Joint Action Committee Afzal Butt thanked the opposition parties, civil society, representatives of the Pakistan Bar Council, Supreme Court Bar Association, High Court Bar Association, and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for participation in the protest rally and sit-in.
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