Islamabad, (May 21, 2024): Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan, strongly denounces the passage of the Punjab Defamation Bill 2024, believing it threatens to harm the constitutional right to free speech in online spaces. This bill designed with malintent to combat fake news essentially is antithesis to human rights principles and is tantamount to stifling online speech and journalistic profession.

It is critical to acknowledge that fighting the challenges posed by the fake news and disinformation cannot be accomplished by criminalizing online expression through defamation laws. In lieu of criminalizing right to freedom of expression under the guise of combatting fake news, Punjab government must promote media literacy by supporting free journalism and more expression and nurturing a culture of critical thinking and fact-checking among individuals.

The Punjab Defamation Bill 2024 threatens Pakistan’s digital rights, including online access to information and expression. The bill provides for potential abuse and clampdown of online expression by adopting overbroad and wide and obscure definition of defamation. It approved law authorizes specialized Tribunals to adjudicate defamation claims exploiting hurriedly crafted legal framework, undermining the due process of fair trail. The imposition of punitive damages for allegedly false accusations, as well as the ability to suspend or restrict social media accounts raises concerns about government overreach and censorship in digital spaces.

We strongly urge the Punjab government to shelf this controversial law without any delay and fulfil its responsibility to safeguard and encourage free speech, both in virtual and real-life spaces. We also call upon the Punjab government to engage in meaningful debate with civil society organisations, journalists, digital rights activists and other relevant stakeholders to establish effective and rights appreciating measures to combat fake news and disinformation while protecting all citizens’ fundamental rights.

Bytes for All, Pakistan stands in solidarity with journalists, activists, and Pakistani citizens who rely on digital platforms to exercise their right to freedom of expression and access to information. We will keep pushing for Pakistan to champion democratic values and safeguard digital rights.