‘Absolutely ridiculous idea,’ says Fawad Chaudhry on criminalisation of criticism

In what appears to be a reference to a newly proposed amendment to a bill that criminalises criticism of Pakistan’s armed forces, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry on Thursday said criminalising criticism is an “absolutely ridiculous idea”.

Although Chaudhry, in his post on Twitter, does not name the bill, his remarks come a day after it was approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior.

Under the proposed amendment, critics of the Pakistan armed forces will face two years in jail as well as fines worth up to Rs500,000.

Submitted by PTI lawmaker Amjad Ali Khan, the bill was approved by a majority. The chairperson of the standing committee, Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, broke the 5-5 vote tie by voting in favour of the proposed bill.

Chaudhry’s tweet today came in response to a post by senior journalist Mazhar Abbas who wrote that while a citizen in Pakistan is free to criticise democracy, free to criticise Parliament, free to criticise politicians, and free to criticise media, the rest is chalked up to “national interest”.

The minister, in response, wrote: “Absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalise criticism, respect is earned, cannot be imposed on people. I strongly feel instead of [such new] laws, Contempt of Court laws should be repealed.”

Later, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari backed Fawad Chaudhry’s views.

“Totally agree. Cannot state it strongly enough,” she wrote.

The bill, titled Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020, currently states: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

According to the proposed amendment, which will fall under Section 500-A of the Pakistan Penal Code: “Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, he shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both.”

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