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Pakistani parliamentarian introduces legislation that would punish criticism of military personnel – The diplomat

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The latest move from a PTI member suggests once again that the Khan government is making the offer of powerful armies to Pakistan.

Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, center, watches a parade with Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, and President Arif Alvi, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 23, 2019

Credit: AP Photo / Anjum Naveed

A ruling Pakistani lawmaker, Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), introduced legislation in Pakistan’s parliament that, if passed, would criminalize criticism of the country’s military, Reuters reported earlier today. According to the report, MP Amjad Ali Khan, head of the parliamentary standing committee on defense, said the purpose of the amendment was “to prevent hatred and disrespectful behavior against the armed forces”. The amendment provides for a prison sentence for anyone who ridicules, discredits or defames the country’s military, the report notes.

Pakistan is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2020 (WPFI). Its military has been widely accused of aggressively prosecuting journalists and other members of Pakistani civil society seen as working against its interests. Commenting on the state of press freedom in Pakistan and the role the country’s military is playing in reducing it, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the international group that publishes the annual WPFI, noted: [t]The influence of this military “ establishment ”, which does not support independent journalism, has grown significantly since Imran Khan became Prime Minister in July 2018.

In February this year, Pakistan introduced new laws to control social media. Pakistani activists noted that the laws acted as force multipliers for an already draconian system of speech control aimed at stifling voices deemed anti-national by the military, long considered the country’s praetorian guard. According to RSF, three journalists have been killed so far this year in Pakistan.

In a high-profile case in 2018, Dawn deputy editor Cyril Almeida widely regarded as a respected and independent voice in Pakistan was charged with treason after he published an interview with then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which Sharif indirectly suggested the involvement of the Pakistani army during the terrorist attacks of November 2008 in the Indian city of Mumbai. Another Pakistani journalist, Taha Siddiqui, fled to Paris after surviving a January 2018 kidnapping offer. Writing for the Washington Post in January of last year, Siddiqui noted that [a]after the attack, several sympathizers told me that if I kept talking about the Pakistani army, I would be shot the next time they picked me up.

Pakistan has lost three places in the WPFI since last year, a development coinciding with the deepening of Imran Khan’s pact with the Pakistani military. When Khan, a flamboyant former cricketer, took office in 2018, the opposition mocked him as the selected prime minister, suggesting the military was behind his victory by choosing to pull the strings behind a facade of nominal democracy. Ahead of the July 2018 election, The New York Times noted that the powerful Pakistani military establishment had launched a formidable campaign against its detractors in the news media, social media, and mainstream political movements.

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Who ultimately fired the shots in Pakistan has been clarified again during the current COVID-19 crisis, which has seen the military take the lead in managing the country’s pandemic response. It’s no surprise, then, that the military is using civilian lawmakers from the ruling PTI to push legislation it promotes through parliament.

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