The Pakistan federal government has proposed a bill to amend the nation's penal code - the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The proposed bill contains provisions for up to a five-year prison term for people who defame the Pakistan Army and the judiciary through any medium, Karachi-based media outlet Dawn reported on Saturday. The bill has been reportedly vetted by the Pakistan Ministry of Law and Justice and has been initiated by the Ministry of Interior to be sent to the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet.
Defending its decision, a cabinet summary outlined that the aim of the "soon-to-be proposed bill" was to curb the criticism of the army and courts that was lately rife on social media. Titled 'Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2023', the bill suggests a new section 500A after section 500 in PPC 1860. The new section is titled ‘Intentional ridiculing or scandalising of the state institutions etc', reported Dawn after accessing a copy.
The bill says whoever makes, publishes, circulates any statement or disseminates information, through any medium, with an intention to ridicule or scandalise the judiciary, the armed forces or any of their member will be guilty of an offence punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 1 million or with both. Similarly, in the Schedule II of the PPC, a new section titled 500A has been added to section 500, which says that the offender will be arrested without a warrant and the offence will be non-bailable and non-compoundable which can only be challenged in a sessions court.
The cabinet summary states that recently the country "has witnessed a spate of scandalous, derogatory and vicious attacks on certain institutions of the state, including the judiciary and armed forces". It adds that it is well-known that a deliberate cyber campaign has been launched by certain wings for self-serving motives with the objective of inciting and nurturing hatred against important state institutions and their officials.
It further states that such attacks are focused on undermining the integrity, stability and independence of the country’s state institutions. The summary says that judicial and army officials do not have the opportunity to step forward and negate scandalous, derogatory remarks while appearing in the media. The document suggests that given the long-tested legal principle noted in Section 196 of the CrPC, prior approval of the federal government before taking cognisance of the case or registration of a first information report (FIR) against any person has been made mandatory to avoid misuse of the mooted PPC section.