Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

A Pakistani journalist wearing a protective facemask uses his mobile phone outside the Aga Khan University Hospital where a patient of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has been admitted in Karachi on February 26, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.


Pakistan launches post-Hajj flight operation, plans to bring back 1,200 pilgrims today

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Pakistan launches post-Hajj flight operation, plans to bring back 1,200 pilgrims today

  • Religious affairs ministry asks pilgrims to get Zamzam water from designated spots at relevant airports
  • The flight operation will continue until July 21 to bring back 70,000 pilgrims on government Hajj scheme

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched the post-Hajj flight operation on Thursday, bringing back the first batch of 150 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia, with the religious affairs ministry saying that nearly 1,200 devotees would return via seven special flights to four different cities by the end of the day.
Transporting large numbers of pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season presents a significant logistical challenge, prompting the government to launch special flights, ensuring safe and timely travel for pilgrims.
The first post-Hajj flight operated between Jeddah and Multan, with six additional flights scheduled to return pilgrims to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad later in the day.
The religious affairs ministry announced that 720 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia will also travel to Madinah today. These pilgrims arrived in the kingdom shortly before Hajj began and were taken directly to Makkah, not having enough time to visit the Prophet’s Mosque before.
“The Hajj flight operation from Jeddah for the return of pilgrims will continue until July 9,” the ministry said in a statement. “The last Hajj flight from Madinah will arrive back in the homeland on July 21. The return of 70,000 government Hajj pilgrims will also be completed on July 21.”
In a separate statement, the ministry also announced the arrangements for distributing Zamzam water among pilgrims availing the government scheme.
“The ministry has made all airlines responsible through an agreement to facilitate pilgrims at designated points to collect Zamzam water,” it said.
The statement urged the pilgrims to collect the water from relevant airports and book it with their luggage.
Pilgrims often bring Zamzam water back from Hajj because it is considered sacred within Islam. The water comes from the Zamzam well located within the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
It is also believed to have unique properties and blessings, ensuring spiritual benefits and healing.


Shahid Afridi expresses solidarity with Palestinians after pro-Israel group shares photo from Manchester event

Updated 20 June 2024
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Shahid Afridi expresses solidarity with Palestinians after pro-Israel group shares photo from Manchester event

  • Afridi says he thought it was ‘just a selfie’ with fans after the group said he stopped to offer support for hostage release
  • Pakistani cricketer asks the group to delete the post, says he prays for peace and freedom for the people of Palestine

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan cricketer Shahid Afridi expressed solidarity with Palestinians on Wednesday after a pro-Israel group shared his photograph taken with its members in Manchester, United Kingdom, in a social media post, saying that he stopped to offer support for its calls for the release of Israeli hostages from Gaza.
Over 200 Israelis were taken hostage by Hamas in an attack on October 7 which the group said was in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
The incident was followed by Israeli airstrikes and ground invasion of Gaza that led to the killing of over 37,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, along with the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure in the area.
While the international community has widely viewed Israel’s response to the Hamas attack as disproportionate, several pro-Israel groups have continued to protest worldwide while demanding the return of the hostages from Gaza.
“Imagine strolling down a street in Manchester (UK) and so-called fans approach you for a selfie,” Afridi said on social media platform X. “You oblige, and moments later, they upload it as some form of Zionist endorsement.”
“Unbelievable,” he continued. “Please don’t believe everything that is uploaded.”
The Pakistani cricketer said it was “truly heartbreaking” to see how Palestinians were targeted by Israel in Gaza.
“Thus, any photo or association shared by in Manchester does not reflect my support for any situation where human lives are at stake,” he said.
Afridi noted he took pictures with fans everywhere, adding that this situation was no different.
“I pray for peace, I pray for an end to this war, I pray for freedom,” he said.

Afridi’s picture was shared by a group called North West Friends of Israel, featuring him with two of its top officials during a street demonstration, where people holding placards can be seen in the background.
One of the group’s officials is also seen holding pro-Israel pamphlets in the frame, which demand the release of hostages.
Afridi later criticized the group, saying he thought it was “just a selfie” with fans.
“I do not endorse your Tweet,” he added. “As a Muslim I pray for peace across the world. Please delete this post as it’s not accurate!”

 
The group, however, claimed that the picture was taken by Afridi’s own camera with hostage placards and leaflets.
“You spoke to us of your own FREE will and posed for a selfie with hostage leaflets to support our cause,” it said. “It’s hugely disappointing you have caved in to those who would oppose the release of innocent babies, children, women and men held hostage by the terrorists of Hamas.”

 


Pakistan announces post-Hajj operations, praises Saudi officials for ‘exemplary’ arrangements amid heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan announces post-Hajj operations, praises Saudi officials for ‘exemplary’ arrangements amid heat

  • Chaudhry Salik Hussain says Saudi authorities had set up water sprinklers, arranged for distribution of beverages
  • He says there were mobile health units and dispensaries in all the major areas to ensure the health of pilgrims

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Chaudhry Salik Hussain announced to start Pakistan’s post-Hajj operations on Wednesday while applauding the Saudi government for making “exemplary” arrangements for pilgrims even in scorching heat.
Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, took place during this week, with over 1.5 million people from across the world performing its rituals in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah.
Muslims across the world also celebrated Eid Al-Adha for three days after the pilgrims spent a day in Arafat where they also attended the Hajj sermon.
“Despite the severe heat, the Saudi government’s Hajj arrangements were exemplary,” Hussain said during a consultation meeting at the Pakistan Hajj Mission in Makkah. “We are starting the post-Hajj operation.”
The meeting reviewed the overall situation during the annual Islamic pilgrimage this year.
The Pakistani minister pointed out the Saudi authorities had taken several measures to mitigate the heat by setting up water sprinklers and a distribution system for cold water and beverages.
He also noted that mobile health units and dispensaries had been established in all the major areas to ensure the health of the pilgrims.
Hussain responded to reports of the absence of Pakistani Hajj assistants in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah by saying the assistants were present at specific intersections but had to move due to overcrowding in the area.
As the rush normalized, however, he said they were sent back again to guide Pakistani pilgrims.
The meeting highlighted the importance of comprehensive training to deal with the rush of transport in the holy sites, the possibility of losing the way and coping with the severity of the weather.


Pakistan rebukes India for objecting to CPEC projects in disputed Kashmir region

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan rebukes India for objecting to CPEC projects in disputed Kashmir region

  • India accused Pakistan, China of implementing these projects on its ‘sovereign territory’ in the Himalayan region
  • Pakistan says India ‘misleading’ the world, calls Kashmir internationally recognized dispute under UN resolutions

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan asked India not to “mislead” the international community about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on Wednesday, criticizing New Delhi’s reaction to a joint statement issued by Beijing and Islamabad earlier this month that made references to the disputed Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The statement was released by the two countries after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif concluded his five-day visit to China in which he held a number of high-profile meetings with the top Chinese political leadership along with the investors and members of the business community.
Among other things, the statement called for peace and stability in South Asia by resolving all outstanding disputes while mentioning Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian external affairs ministry said in response that the region constituted an “integral and inalienable” part of India, adding that no other country had the right to comment on its status.
India also accused Pakistan and China of implementing various CPEC projects on its “sovereign territory under forcible and illegal occupation by Pakistan.”
“India has no right to object to the references made to Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan-China Joint Statement of 8 June 2024,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement. “It is an established fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally-recognized disputed territory. The dispute has been on the agenda of the UN Security Council for over seven decades.”
“The relevant Security Council resolutions clearly stipulate that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations,” it added. “In that backdrop, the Indian claims over Jammu and Kashmir are totally unfounded and misplaced.”
The foreign office said India “should not mislead the international community” about CPEC while calling it a “flagship developmental endeavour” agreed upon by two sovereign nations.
“Instead of making baseless claims about CPEC, India should implement, at the earliest, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir,” it continued.
Pakistan and India have fought wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir since their independence in 1947. Both countries claim Kashmir in full, but control only parts of it.


Pakistanis sacrifice animals worth $1.8 billion on Eid Al-Adha as charities cut reliance on hides

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistanis sacrifice animals worth $1.8 billion on Eid Al-Adha as charities cut reliance on hides

  • Pakistan’s exports of leather products declined from $677 million to $624 million from July 2023 to May 2024, statistics bureau says
  • The decline affected prices of animal hides and Eid Al-Adha now provides 20 percent of the raw materials to the country’s leather industry

KARACHI: Pakistani Muslims have sacrificed more than 6 million animals worth around Rs500 billion ($1.8 billion) during the three-day Eid Al-Adha festival, according to estimates shared by Pakistani tanners on Wednesday, with charities cutting their reliance to generate revenues.
Muslims celebrate three-day Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, by slaughtering animals such as cattle and goats and sharing their meat among family and friends and the poor. It commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, on God’s command.
This year 6.8 million animals, including 2.9 million cows, 3.3 million goats, 385,000 sheep, 98,700 camels and 165,000 buffalos, were sacrificed, according to preliminary data compiled by the Pakistan Tanners Association (PTA). The value of their hides was estimated at Rs8.4 billion ($30 million). 
“Our estimates show that this year animals worth Rs500 billion ($1.8 billion) have been slaughtered across Pakistan,” Agha Saidain, a member of the PTA central executive committee who prepared the data, told Arab News.
He, however, said that nearly 40 percent of the hides, a basic raw material for leather products, have been wasted due to the hot weather and a lack of proper handling.
“Eid provides about 20 percent of raw material required by the [Pakistani] leather industry, but this year the ratio will further decline due to wastage,” Saidain added.
Pakistani charities as well as religious and political organizations, which used to heavily rely on animal hides on Eid Al-Adha for their revenue generation, say the revenue stream has almost lost its value due to a decline in demand and prices of hides.
“In the past when dollar used to be [equal to] Rs60 in Pakistan, the hide used to be Rs4,500 and now when dollar is around Rs300, the hide is being sold for Rs950,” Maulana Bashir Ahmed Farooqui, founding chairman of Saylani Welfare International Trust (SWIT), told Arab News.
“It has lost its value drastically.”
The SWIT, one of the largest charity organizations in Pakistan, provides three meals a day to 200,000 destitute people daily in addition to extending basic humanitarian aid services to 400,000 deserving people on a daily basis, according to Farooqui. The charity, which prides itself with serving people in about 63 aspects of life, has an annual budget of around Rs13 billion ($47 million).
“Out of Rs13 billion, the organization collects skins and hides worth about Rs20 million, because skins and hides have no value now,” he said. “There was a time when traders would struggle to buy them months before and would pay asking prices even in advance.”
Pakistan’s exports of leather products declined from $677 million to $624 million from July 2023 to May 2024, according to the country’s statistics bureau. A surge in demand for artificial leather globally is one of the key factors behind this decline.
As a result, many Pakistani charities have been forced to look for alternative fundraising sources and methods to support their operations.
“Once skin and hides were a 100 percent source to fund organization’s operations, but now this source of revenue meets about 2-3 percent of the expenditures,” Qazi Sadaruddin, a director at Al-Khidmat Foundation, told Arab News.
In the past, the collection of animal skins and hides worth billions of rupees also led to violence in Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi, but this has stopped now.
“The incidents of snatching of skins started when Edhi Foundation was targeted by ethnic groups involved in the activity,” said Professor Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a historian, while referring to a major social welfare organization operating across Pakistan.
He adding the act of snatching hides used to be a source of undocumented revenue, which these groups adjusted in extortion money.
Khan said the situation improved since the government took strict action and implemented regulatory measures in addition to launching an operation against militants in Karachi several years ago. Besides, he added, the business was no more attractive due to almost no demand for the commodity.
“Now the cost of collecting skins and hides is more than the prices,” Khan said. “As it lost market value, it lost the attraction.”
In Pakistan, Eid Al-Adha significantly boosts the livestock sector, involving more than 8 million rural families. The festive period sees an increase in demand for animals, which in turn provides economic opportunities to rural communities.