Ban from Criticizing Pakistan Army under new Law
Lahore, Pakistan — A possible two years behind bars or fine up to PKR 5,00,000 if found
guilty for criticizing Pakistan’s army, under the new las in Pakistan.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2020, passed by the National Assembly Standing
Committee on Interior, will see critics of the armed forces tried in civil courts under Section
500A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Critics of the law see it as the latest attempt to silence dissent in the country, with the state
already accused of large-scale censorship.
“Absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalize criticism,” Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s minister of science and technology, tweeted, reacting to the law. “Respect is earned,
cannot be imposed on people.”
Tehreek-e-Insaf is the ruling party in Pakistan.
Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization to safeguard the
right to freedom of information, ranks Pakistan 145 out of 180 countries on the press freedom
index, maintaining that journalists in Pakistan work “under the military establishment’s
Human Rights Watch has similarly condemned Pakistan’s crackdown on dissenting voices,
including the editor-in-chief of Jang group, Pakistan’s largest media house, in its 761-
page World Report 2021.
In addition to rights groups and sections of the Opposition, condemnation for the law has
come from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.Some experts believe the Bill is an attempt by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to muster the
military’s support when it is under pressure from opposition parties and facing large-scale
discontent from the masses after two-and-a-half years of economic crises.
Ayesha Siddiqa, political scientist and author of “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military
Economy”, called the passage of a law to criminalize criticism of the army “sinister”.
“Despite the existing silencing of dissent, the latest move will further enhance censorship in
the country,” she told Zenger News. “It’s a constant struggle, so the push will continue. I
don’t see [censorship] going away.”
Siddiqa believes that while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s interests are protected by the move to
silence critique of the army, the military leadership is also backing the law.
“I hope the Opposition pushes back in the Senate. But if they don’t, it will be disastrous.
Though it’s worth inquiring how did it [the law] pass in the standing committee where all
parties are present,” she said, underlining that opposition parties are covertly working with
the military establishment keeping the 2023 general elections in mind.
Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, the chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee
on Interior, broke a 5-5 tie by voting for the Bill to criminalize “ridiculing, bringing into
disrepute, or defaming” Pakistan Army.
Agha Rafiullah, a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, and Marriyum Aurangzeb and
Nadeem Abbas Rebaira, leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, opposed the law.
The Bill was introduced last year by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Amjad Ali Khan. Its timing
raised eyebrows, given that it overlapped with the national uproar over a corruption scandal
engulfing retired Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa.
The former military spokesperson Bajwa, a special advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan on
information and broadcasting at the time, heads the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
(CPEC) Authority overseeing the work on the $87-billion worth financial deals between
Beijing and Islamabad.
In addition to censoring critique on the army’s policies, the military leadership is also
accused by human rights groups of arbitrarily abducting individuals.
Global rights organizations have condemned the enforced disappearances in Pakistan, which
often target nationalists in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Gilgit-Baltistan —
all areas under the direct control of Pakistan.
In addition to targeting ethnic dissidents questioning or critiquing the state policies, a
crackdown was also unleashed on social media voices in 2017, with dissenting bloggers
allegedly abducted by law enforcement agencies.
This trend of the army targeting writers and journalists critical of them, even after their
removal from mainstream media, has continued. Many observers maintain that the country
has witnessed unprecedented censorship since the beginning of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s tenure in 2018.“In the aftermath of the 2018 sham general elections, even the word ‘rigging’ was banned,”
Gul Bukhari, a former columnist with Pakistani dailies The Nation and Daily Times who was
abducted in 2018, told Zenger News.
Bukhari said she has never seen the kind of censorship that Pakistan is experiencing today,
despite the country having been ruled by the military for around half of its 73 years of
“Right after the election, opposition leaders could not be shown on television. A three-time
prime minister is still not allowed to be covered by the mainstream media. This is the extent
of fascism,” she said.
She believes the new law is an attempt by the army to muzzle the exposure and criticism of
its crimes. “The proposed law is laughable. Members of only one department of the
government are being protected from criticism and officially being elevated to the status of a
holy cow. No democratic society can allow that,” she said.
“What this junta needs to understand is that if torture, abductions, kill, and dump have not
silenced the people of Pakistan, how would another draconian and unfair law silence them?”
Observers also note that the move to ban any criticism on the part of the army officially could
backfire and play right into the hands of the critics who accuse the military of wide-scale
human rights abuses in the country.
“[The law] reinforces the argument that the establishment is behind the missing persons,”
Lieutenant General Talat Masood, a former secretary at Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense
Production, told Zenger News.
“Instead of tightening the noose and stifling voices, it would be better [for the military] to
allow them to express their views. So, you know exactly how they are feeling.”
This silencing of voices critical of the military establishment doesn’t only target those in the
civilian sphere but is also aimed at sections within the armed forces.
In 2019, the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations issued a list of 26 retired army officers
who were allowed to speak to the media as defense analysts, barring others. Masood’s name
wasn’t on the list.
Other retired officers who wish to appear as defense analysts were asked to contact the Inter-Services Public Relations to obtain a no-objection certificate.
“I was disappointed. I’ve served the army for 40 years. You can look at my career and my
contribution. I came to Pakistan [during Partition] on my own, at the age of 16, serving the
country ever since. It saddens me that people [in the military establishment] have such
warped thinking and are so insecure,” Masood said.
“Different opinions should be welcomed, and criticism should be taken in its stride.
Pakistan’s armed forces are powerful; they shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”