Pakistani ruling party lawmaker seeks to criminalise criticism of military

A general view of Parliament House building in Islamabad on April 27, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Pakistani ruling party lawmaker seeks to criminalise criticism of military

  • Bill seeks up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees ($3,012.59)
  • Experts say new law unnecessary given the constitution already guarantees the armed forces’ sanctity

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani ruling party parliamentarian has introduced legislation seeking to jail anyone who “ridicules or brings into disrepute or defames” the military, according to records posted on parliament’s website this week.

“The purpose of this amendment is to prevent hatred and disrespectful behaviour against the Armed Forces,” says the bill, presented by Amjad Ali Khan, chairman of parliament’s standing committee on defence.

The bill seeks up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees ($3,012.59).

Information Minister Shibli Faraz did not respond to a request for comment.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has a simple majority in the lower house of parliament but not in the upper house where it cannot pass legislation without opposition support.

“If the powerful quarters intend to get it passed and make it law, they will do it,” said opposition senator Pervaiz Rashid of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. “I fear it will be misused.”

One South Asia legal expert, Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists, said the move was unnecessary given the constitution already guarantees the armed forces’ sanctity.

The introduction of the bill coincides with controversy around reporting by Pakistani news website FactFocus of allegations that a former general, Asim Saleem Bajwa, did not declare millions of dollars of family assets in June as a special adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bajwa denies the allegations. Bajwa also became chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor after he retired last year.

Last week, police arrested a journalist on charges of defaming the army. Police also registered cases against two other journalists on charges of maligning the military.


Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

Updated 19 September 2020

Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

  • The book tells the story of a young boy from Karachi's Lyari, who is learning about the virus to help others
  • 'Little Master' is illustrated by Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series 'Paak-Legion'

RAWALPINDI: "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book, is going to be released on Monday to guide Pakistani children how to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic and cope with COVID-19 misinformation.
Published by Mehrdar Art & Production (MAP), the book tells the story of Ahmed, a young boy from Karachi's Lyari area, who is trying to learn about the coronavirus to help keep others safe, regardless of their community background.
"Comics are a great way to tell a story positively and are really useful in countering misinformation,” Muhammad Faheem, documentary filmmaker and MAP founder, told Arab News on Saturday.

The cover of "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book to help Pakistani children cope with COVID-19 misinformation. (Photo courtesy of Muhammad Faheem via AN)

The efforts have been funded by MAP itself and through government and private support. To illustrate "Little Master," Faheem asked for help Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series "Paak-Legion."
Thousands of copies of "Little Master" will be distributed at schools in underprivileged areas such as Lyari, where misinformation has led to blame games and community tensions that affected virus response. Some narratives even questioned the very existence of the virus and necessity to follow any precautions against it.

Umair Najeeb Khan is working on an illustration for the "Little Master" comic book in Islamabad on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Umair Najeeb Khan via AN)

In May, Faheem rolled out "Hum Sab Saath, Corona ki Kilaaf" ("All of Us Together Against the Coronavirus"), a campaign through posters, social media and talks by community leaders to address the situation.
"It got to the point where relief efforts in these areas were being compromised because people were questioning who deserved help," Faheem said. "We needed to address not only the severity of what was going on but educate the citizens of these areas on what was real information to help combat the fake news and rising bigotry."
The comic book is a follow up to these efforts.
"When kids read our comics, we hope they will learn more about the pandemic and how it is a collective effort that we all have to join together, regardless of our backgrounds."