Pakistan minister slams bill seeking prison for army critics

MUNIR AHMED
·2 min read

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani Cabinet minister on Thursday slammed a proposed bill that would punish criticism of the military with two-year prison terms and hefty fines, saying the legislation drafted by a parliamentary panel was ridiculous.

The minister for science and technology, Fawad Chaudhry, who is also a senior leader in the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party, took to Twitter to denounce the proposed bill, a day after a special committee of the National Assembly approved it and sent the draft on for presentation in parliament. Opposition lawmakers oppose the bill.

Chaudhry called the idea to criminalize criticism “absolutely ridiculous" and that respect is earned and cannot be imposed on people. He went a step further, saying he strongly feels that existing, decades-old “contempt of court laws should be repealed" instead of going for more such legislation.

It remained unclear when the bill would be formally presented in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. It was also unclear whether the military had had a role in drafting it — something Chaudhry said he doubted.

“The army in Pakistan is loved and respected by every Pakistani with a soul,” he wrote.

Activists and Pakistani journalists have also criticized the planned bill, including Mazhar Abbas, who often reports for Pakistan’s independent Geo Television and who tweeted that people apparently were free to criticize the parliament, politicians and the media — but the “rest is national interest."

According to the draft bill, anyone found guilty of intentionally ridiculing the armed forces by a civilian court would face a two-year sentence, a fine of 500,000 rupees ($3,300), or both prison and the fine.

Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for more than half of its 74-year history since independence from Britain, and has been unwilling to see its influence challenged — even by elected governments in this country's checkered political history.

The nation has seen the fall of several prime ministers and other Cabinet members who confronted the military on a range of issues, including those who tried to keep it away from politics.