Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the Pakistani government’s decision to drop its plan to increase penalties for libel, including up to a year’s imprisonment instead of the present three months.
The final version of an amendment to the Defamation Ordinance 2002 published on 13 July did not contain the earlier-proposed heavier jail sentence and new fines of up to 300,000 rupees ($4,500).
The worldwide press freedom organisation however condemned the 2002 law, which remains in force, stressing that any imprisonment for libel was excessive punishment
Bill to increase penalties for defamation
Reporters Without Borders urges legislators to vote against a governmental bill that could aggravate the repression of journalists by raising the penalty for defamation to a year in prison.
Honourable Members, National Assembly of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan
Paris, 11 August 2004
Dear Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that defends press freedom, would like to draw your attention to a governmental bill (the Defamation Amendment Act 2004) that was submitted to you on 29 July. We call on you to reject this amendment, which will come up for vote in the coming days.
This bill would amend the Defamation Ordinance 2002 and sections 499 to 502 of the criminal code, increasing the penalties for persons found guilty of defamation. It proposes a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 rupees (4,500 dollars), instead of three months in prison and 50,000 rupees (900 dollars), as is currently the case. These penalties are clearly excessive and violate free expression.
While it is legitimate for every country to sanction libel and slander, the punishments imposed must respect the principle of proportionality and should under no circumstances result in a year’s imprisonment.
The penalties proposed in this bill disregard international standards on free expression, according to which imprisonment for offences such as libel, insult or disrespect for a head of state "constitutes a serious violation of human rights" (report issued on 18 January 2000 by the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Abid Hussain).
The promulgation of the Defamation Ordinance 2002 already constituted a serious violation of free expression in Pakistan. This law states that any publication or circulation of false information, made orally or in writing or by image, that insults a person’s reputation may be regarded as defamation. It calls for sanctions against the editor, managing editor, journalist and distributor of the media that carried the defamation.
For these reasons, Honourable Members, we urge you as guarantors of Pakistan’s fundamental rights, to reject this amendment which is contrary to democratic principles.