The IPI global network is alarmed by a proposed bill in Pakistan that would punish criticism of the Pakistan military and judiciary with prison. The measures would expand on the already restrictive provisions in the criminal code that are increasingly used to slience critial media and independent journalism in Pakistan. 

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023 introduces a new provision to the Pakistan Penal Code that introduces a maximum five-year prison term and fine for anyone who publishes or shares information, through any medium, with the intent to “ridicule or scandalise” the military and judiciary or its members, according to Pakistani news outlet Dawn. The rule also authorizes the arrest of suspects without a warrant and denies suspects the right to pre-trial bail.

“The Pakistani government must refrain from weaponizing laws to weaken free speech and press freedom and public institutions must be able to withstand public scrutiny and criticism”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “We call on the goverment to commit to drafting laws in close cooperation with civil society and human rights experts to mitigate potential human rights and freedom of expression risks.”

The bill, which was initiated by the Ministry of Interior and reviewed by the Ministry of Law and Justice, is expected to be forwarded to the federal cabinet, according to Dawn. It is the third draft bill that has been proposed to criminalize criticism of the state in recent years. In April 2021, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Interior introduced the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020, which proposed a maximum of two years imprisonment and a fine for anyone who “intentionally ridicule[s] the armed forces.” It was ultimately rejected by the Senate and the National Assembly. In November 2022, the government introduced an amendment to the Federal Investigation Agency Act, 1974, which empowers the agency to punish anybody who spreads “rumours and false information against state institutions” on social media.

Pakistani authorities arrested or detained at least 20 journalists between April and September 2022 alone, according to IPI monitoring. Journalists are often charged under Pakistan’s criminal code, including Section 505 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, which prohibits the circulation of rumours or alarming news and is often used beyond its legitimate scope to silence journalists who expose corruption or criticize government policies.