Is criminalizing relentless propaganda against armed forces such a bad idea?

A lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) last week introduced The Criminal Law Bill 2020 in the National Assembly. The bill aims to criminalize the relentless propaganda on social media against the armed forces of Pakistan.

Criminal Law Bill

A lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) last week introduced The Criminal Law Bill 2020 in the National Assembly. The bill aims to criminalize the relentless propaganda on social media against the armed forces of Pakistan.

On September 15, the government had passed the bill for tabling the Lower House. The bill, if passed, will make intentional ridiculing and defaming of Pakistan Armed Forces a punishable crime.

The tabling of the bill has drawn mixed reactions on social media in Pakistan. Some Pakistanis on the internet view it as an attempt to curb freedom of expression, and others are celebrating it as an attempt to regulate abusive social media behavior.

What is The Criminal Law Bill 2020?

According to the bill introduced in a supplementary agenda, “the offense will be punishable with two years imprisonment or Rs 0.5 million fine or with both”.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says, “This bill proposes amendments in the Pakistan Penal code and the code of criminal procedure. The proposed insertion of section 500 A shall penalize the intentional ridiculing and defaming of the Armed Forces or any of its members”.

“A person guilty of such offense will be punished with imprisonment for a term up to two years or a fine for up to Rs 500,000. The purpose of this amendment is to prevent hatred and disrespectful behavior against the Armed Forces. Strict action should be taken against those bringing this repute to the Armed Forces institution in accordance with the law.”

What is the significance of this new law?

Political experts believe that in the age of information where 5th generation warfare is used to target political opponents, it is important to regulate public platforms to stop foreign-funded agents from carrying out organized campaigns against the armed forces.

Recently, it was found that the Indian NGOs were working against Pakistani through various websites to influence global perception. The EU DisinfoLab, a European NGO tackling disinformation, published its findings on a vast network of fake local news sites in over 65 countries serving Indian interests by repeatedly criticizing Pakistan.

Read more: Indian Media’s Obsession with Pakistan Army Continues to Grow

Pakistani experts and political commentators have always maintained that India uses various methods of propaganda to damage Pakistani reputation before the international community. Some Pakistani nationalists also claimed that the agenda of India is to defame Pakistan by exaggerating the challenges that the minorities are facing in Pakistan.

“What type of challenges are minorities facing in Pakistan? Don’t we all stand by them whenever there is an attack against them?” a journalist told GVS.

How to deal with propaganda?

There have been reports of big social media firms banning accounts operating from Pakistan which are critical of India’s oppression in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has taken up the matter with Twitter and Facebook in order to present its case on India curbing the freedom of expression.

At the moment, Pakistan is also yet to respond to the startling facts brought up by the European NGO on Indian misinformation campaigns. Social media experts believe that the educated youth of Pakistan has a responsibility to defend the country’s national interests at digital fronts.

Read more: Propaganda machinery: ISPR slams Indian media

“There are 44 million users of social media in Pakistan today, most of them comprising of the youth. Hence, it is a soft target for external forces. If utilized properly, social media users in Pakistan can be used to counter propaganda rather than fall prey to it, noted Eesha Imtiaz, a Pakistan-based research analyst.

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