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Watchdog Blasts Pakistan's 'Pointless' New Law Aimed At Protecting Journalists

Pakistani journalists and members of civil society protesting against attacks on journalists in Islamabad.
Pakistani journalists and members of civil society protesting against attacks on journalists in Islamabad.

An international media rights watchdog has criticized an “extremely vague” provision in a new Pakistani law that supposedly protects journalists, saying it was “tantamount to censorship and intimidation.”

Passed by Pakistan’s federal parliament last month, the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 “is supposed to provide an alert and defense mechanism for journalists who feel threatened in Pakistan, for years one of the world’s deadliest countries for the media,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement on December 1.

However, Section 6 of the legislation “neutralizes virtually” all the protection that it was supposed to provide by prohibiting all media workers from spreading “false information” and producing material that “advocates hatred” or constitutes “incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” according to the Paris-based group.

The provision, which RSF said does not clearly define these terms, allows the government to interpret these restrictions on journalistic freedom, and also envisions criminal prosecution for journalists who fail to comply with them.

“Even when defining a programme for protecting journalists, the government cannot resist introducing a provision that is clearly designed to intimidate and censor them, which means this is a pointless law,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.

Bastard called on the staff of Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, who submitted the bill, to present a new version without the “absurd” Section 6.

The law’s adoption by the federal parliament follows the approval of similar legislation by Sindh’s provincial parliament in May that did not include the restrictions mentioned in Section 6 of the federal law.

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

The watchdog noted journalists there “are usually the targets of physical violence precisely because they have dared to tackle subjects that are effectively banned by the government.”

Last month, a blogger was gunned down in northwestern Pakistan after exposing the activities of drug traffickers and their alleged accomplices within the local administration in the area where he lived.

An amateur video reporter was also found beaten to death in Sindh after drawing attention to a hunting trip for a protected bird species that was organized by a local politician.

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