Letter to Punjab Assembly Members by Hundreds of Scholars, Lawyers, Artists and Notables

 To the respected members of the Provincial Assembly Punjab,

 We write to you today to express our grave concern over the passage of the draconian Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill 2020 (“the Bill”), which empowers the Directorate General Public Relations (“DGPR”) to visit and inspect any printing press, publication house or book store and confiscate any book, before or after printing. The vesting of such immense arbitrary, unfettered and unilateral power in a single bureaucrat is in breach of even those reasonable restrictions that can be imposed on the right to freedom of expression under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 (“the Constitution”).

Additionally, the DGPR does not have the expertise to decide on such matters. The function of the DGPR is the publicity of the government and handling public relations of the government. There is no rational or legal basis for the DGPR to be granted competence by the legislature to make determinations on matters entrusted to him under this Bill. Further, under Section 8(4) of the Bill, the books confiscated are to be presented to the Muttahida Ulema Board. The Bill neither defines the Board, nor does it shed light on its composition. There is also no rationale for assuming that the said Board is competent to decide what is prejudicial to national interest and culture.

Moreover, due to the ambiguous wording of the Bill, there are bound to be major problems with respect to its application, specifically relating to discriminatory application of this power, which will inevitably lead to violations of Article 25 of the Constitution. For example, the Bill prohibits the printing and publication of “objectionable material” and prevents publishers, editors and translators from printing or publishing said material, without defining what constitutes “objectionable material”. As such, there is no objective legal certainty through which citizens of Pakistan can definitively regulate their conduct in accordance with the provisions of this Bill.

There is a pressing need for this Bill to be reviewed in its entirety, as it amounts to excessive delegation of powers to the executive. The Courts in Pakistan have repeatedly struck down laws on the basis of the doctrine of excessive delegation. Our Constitutional framework is based on trichotomy of powers. Although limited delegation of legislative powers is permissible, such unbridled power to determine what amounts to objectionable content essentially amounts to handing over power of the legislature to an executive official.

Under Section 7(b) of the Bill, the DGPR has also been empowered to “investigate”, “inquire”, “assess” or “ascertain” “any acts or omission involved in the matter”. It is completely ambiguous as to what the “matter” is. Such unchecked power is bound to be abused by executive functionaries when they perform the functions of prosecution and judge to punish any breach under the law. Such delegation of power amounts to vesting judicial powers in the executive, which is in breach of principles of trichotomy of power and separation of powers.

As there are no intelligible criteria provided within the Bill on the basis of which confiscation can be ordered, the application of the Bill will almost certainly result in Article 25 violations. If the DGPR is allowed to arbitrarily confiscate publications, there will be no checks and balances against discriminatory or prejudicial treatment, and the absence of  any mechanism to prevent the same will only aid the misuse and misapplication of this vaguely phrased Bill.

 The Bill additionally empowers the DGPR to refuse permission to import, print or publish a book “if it is prejudicial to the national interest, culture, religious and sectarian harmony”. These are not lawful restrictions on the right to freedom of expression under the Constitution. In fact, even if they were listed grounds contained in Article 19, restrictions on the right to expression must comply with the three-part test contained in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), to which Pakistan has been a State Party since 23 June 2010. Accordingly, an interference with the right to freedom of expression is only legitimate if:

(i)        it is provided by law;

(ii)      it pursues a legitimate aim; and

(iii)     it is necessary in a democratic society.

 The onus is on the Punjab Assembly to establish that the interference resulting from the Bill is legitimate under the legal standard of assessment provided in the ICCPR.

 The powers of confiscation provided for in the Bill are violative of Article 10-A of the Constitution. The Bill does not provide for a right to hearing prior to confiscation, which is violative of the principle of audi alteram partem. It is a well-settled principle of our jurisprudence that if it is being contemplated to pass an order against a person, he/she should first be provided with an opportunity of hearing. Public office-holders, including the DGPR, exercise powers only under the law and as such it is incumbent upon them to grant an opportunity of hearing before passing an adverse order.

 The requirement of four gratis copies placed on publishers and printers, under Section 5 of the Bill, is an impediment to the exercise of their Article 18 right safeguarding freedom of trade, business or profession. Public entities cannot take any measures or decisions that impair the exercise of this right.

 This Bill is also in breach of Article 19A of the Constitution, which protects the right to access to information. The concepts of glory of Islam, national interest, culture and religious and sectarian harmony cannot be allowed to be misused and become a tool for whimsical, arbitrary, subjective, unstructured, dictatorial or unreasonable censorship and control of publications.

 Ultimately, we view the passage of this Bill as a blatant attempt by the Punjab Assembly to circumvent the guarantees for fundamental rights contained in the Constitution. What is peculiar is why a democratic forum would behave in such a dictatorial manner, disrespecting the very Constitution that empowers it. The DGPR, as the sole regulator for publications across Punjab, cannot act in an arbitrary, capricious or unjust manner. Under the law and Constitution, the DGPR is not granted absolute, unfettered discretion to act arbitrarily.

We also fear that certain provisions of the proposed Bill may fuel sectarian tensions in the province, which would have spillover effect(s) throughout the country.

The Constitution does not allow legislators to have unbridled power to legislate, they must do so within the defined contours of the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights enshrined within it.

Lastly, as citizens of Pakistan, we cherish the right to freedom of expression as one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. It is an integral requirement for progress and development of human beings. Every condition or restriction imposed on our right to expression and our right to information must be proportionate to the aim purportedly pursued. The necessity for this bill must be established by the Punjab Assembly, which has not yet been done. Moreover, the Punjab Assembly has been unable to highlight a pressing social need that required passage of this Bill. Therefore, we register our strong opposition to this draconian Bill and strongly urge reconsideration of the position adopted by the Punjab Assembly. We would also like to raise our concern with respect to the impact of this Bill on domestic industry. Given the digital age we live in, such prohibitory legislation may end up encouraging citizens to get hold of online pirated versions of publications that they wish to read. This would consequently have an adverse impact on local publishers and distributors.

 Signed by:

1.     Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, Lawyer

2.     Mohammad Raza Goraya, Lawyer

3.     Zainab Janjua, Lawyer

4.     Usama Khilji, Activist

5.     Barrister Syeda Jugnoo Kazmi, Lawyer

6.     Nighat Dad, Advocate High Court

7.     Dania Mukhtar, Advocate High Court

8.     Shmyla Khan, Lawyer

9.     Muhammad Usman, Lawyer

10.  Saqib Jillani, Lawyer

11.  Nabiha Sheikh, Philosophy for Children, Pakistan

12.  Salima Hashmi, WAF Lahore, Artist, Educator

13.  Women’s Action Forum Lahore

14.  Humaira Masihudin, Lawyer/Criminologist

15.  Minaam Karim, Lawyer

16.  Neshmiya Adnan Khan, Lawyer

17.  Arafat Mazhar, Director, Engage Foundation for Research and Dialogue

18.  Naila Malik, Principal, The Indus Academy

19.  Shoaib Muhammad Khan, Chartered Accountant

20.  Yasser Vayani, Artist

21.  Naila Mahmood, Artist, Educator

22.  Hoori Noorani, Publisher

23.  Mohsin Sayeed, Designer

24.  Ava Cowasjee, Philanthropist

25.  Zain Ahmed, Theatre Director

26.  Sameera Raja, Gallery Owner

27.  Saba Obaid, Homemaker, Artist

28.  Dr. Shahid N. Zahid, Economist and Development Policy Specialist

29.  Professor Yasmin Cheema, Educationist, Independent Heritage Consultant

30.  Nyla Ahsan, Educationist

31.  Nargis Soorty, Director, Soorty Enterprise

32.  Dr. Furqan Ahmed

33.  Khawaja Murtaza Mashooqullah

34.  Behram Ahmed

35.  Vishal Anand, Community Organizer

36.  Aroon Arthur, Community Worker

37.  Daniel Daniel, Youth Leader

38.  Mohsin Sheheryar, Political Activist

39.  Gul-e-Zehra, Community Organizer

40.  Madiha Naqvi, Educator, Activist

41.  Baqir Sajjad, Journalist

42.  Ali Furqan, Journalist

43.  Midhat Zaidi, Communications Specialist

44.  Zafar Abbas, Scholar, Activist

45.  Noor-e-Maryam, Development Professional

46.  Jaffer Mirza, Researcher

47.  Asif Mumtaz, Advocate High Court

48.  Meesum Zaidi, Journalist

49.  Noor Darwesh, Blogger

50.  Ali Hussain, Journalist

51.  Riaz Ali, Activist

52.  Hassan Raza, Development Professional

53.  Syed Sheraz Sherazi, Businessman

54.  Farwa Haider, International Footballer

55.  Marium Chaudhry, Journalist

56.  Benazir Shah, Journalist

57.  Zebunnisa Burki, Journalist

58.  Abid Hussain, Journalist

59.  Mehmal Sarfraz, Journalist

60.  Adnan Sattar, LUMS

61.  Suleima Jahangir, Lawyer

62.  Anushay Malik, Historian

63.  Ayaz Qureshi, Academic

64.  Ayyaz Malik, Academic

65.  Asad Saeed, Economist

66.  Huma Yusuf, Journalist

67.  Irfan Husain, Columnist

68.  Saroop Ijaz, Lawyer

69.  Danish Mustafa, Academic

70.  S. Ali Abbas, Economist

71.  Muhammad Ali Jan, Academic

72.  Reema Omer, Lawyer

73.  Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, Journalist

74.  Khawaja Ahmed Hosain, Lawyer

75.  Tariq Suleman, Academic

76.  Sobia Ahmed Kaker, Academic

77.  Mahvish Ahmad, Academic

78.  Asha Amirali, Academic

79.  Arif Naveed, Academic

80.  Maria Rashid, Academic

81.  Ayesha Ijaz Khan, Lawyer

82.  Raza Rumi, Journalist

83.  Umber Khairi, Journalist

84.  Shan Aman Rana, Academic

85.  Tayyab Safdar, Academic

86.  Nadir Cheema, Academic

87.  Umair Javed, Academic

88.  Sameen Mohsin, Academic

89.  Ali Usman Qasmi, Academic

90.  Aisha Ahmed, Academic

91.  Yasser Kureshi, Academic

92.  Zoha Waseem, Academic

93.  Salman Khan, Academic

94.  Ammar Ali Jan, Activist, Academic

95.  Jannat Ali Kalyar, Barrister

96.  Ramis Sohail, Advocate High Court

97.  Usama Khawar Ghumman, Advocate High Court

98.  Zain Qureshi, Advocate High Court

99.  Haider Kaleem, Journalist

100.  Zainab Fakhar, Advocate

101.  Muntaha Khan, Advocate

102.   Hamza Asad Farooq, Advocate High Court

103.   Indus Public Lawyers’ Front

104.    Hija Kamran, Activist

106.    Muhammad Umer Toor, Advocate High Court

107.   Hammad Mazari, Advocate High Court

108.  Hiba Akbar, Academic

109.   Haider Kaleem, Journalist

110.  Farva Batool

111.   Haider Butt, Advocate

112.  Yusra Jabeen, Journalist

113.   Beenish Javed, Advocate High Court

114.   Hassan Raza, Journalist

115.   Shaheer Roshan Shaikh, Lawyer

116.    Ali Aftab, Activist

117.   Murtaza Bajwa, Activist

118.    Alia Haider, Doctor

119.    Salman Sikandar, Activist

120.    Ali Behram Khan, Activist

121.   Ali Ashraf Malik, Journalist

122.    Zinoor Butt, Lawyer

123.    Amnah Chaudhry, Activist

124.   Mudabbir Ali, Researcher

125.  Bilal Zahoor, Publisher

126.  Hamid Riaz, Journalist

127.   Zaighum Abbas, Academic

128.   Ayaz Safdar Sandhu, Advocate High Court

129.  Qamar Sehol, Advocate High Court

130.  Usman Alam, Advocate

131.  Ahsan Zubair Bhatti, Advocate

132. Kazim Shah, Advocate

133. Rana Fazal, Advocate

134. Zulqarnain Baryar, Advocate High Court

135. Rana Zia Hassan, Advocate High Court

136. Safdar Hussain Sandhu, Advocate High Court

137. Bilal Butt, Advocate High Court

138. Abdul Karim Kerala, Advocate Supreme Court

139. Kaleem Haider Tarar, Advocate

140. Ahmed Saeed, Journalist

141. Husnain Jamil, Artist

142. Maqbool Jaffar, Journalist

143. Ammar Yasir, Journalist

144. Zubair Siddique, Journalist

145. Jafar Bazoi, Journalist

146. Qamar Abbas, Journalist

147. Salaar Khan, Lawyer

148. Naila Zahid, Educationist

149. Zahra Hidayatullah, Journalist

150. Intizar Aslam Bhatti, Architect, Director Art & Architecture Pakistan (GOP)

151. Munize Peracha, Architect

152. Mariyah Mazari, Educationist

153. Khushbakht Sohail, Lecturer

154. Tabish Hazir, Doctor

155. Anique Salman Malik, Lawyer

156. Rabi bin Tariq, Lawyer

157. Nausherwan Niaz, Lawyer

158. Barrister Waqas Aziz Qureshi, Lawyer

159. Mashal Waqar, Lawyer

160. Babar Sattar, Lawyer

161. Asfandyar Khan, Lawyer

162. Rahid Mahar, Lawyer

163. Ammar Rashid, Activist

164. Jahanzeb Ali Chaudhry, Lawyer

165. Ammara Kazmi, Advocate High Court

166. Atta Ullah Kundi, Lawyer

167. Hammayle Hassan, Lawyer

168. Sadia Noreen Malik, Lawyer

169. Hassan A. Niazi, Lawyer

170. Noor Bano Khan, Lawyer

171. Hassan Sattar, Edupreneur, Educationist & Author

172. Rabia Amir, Lawyer

173. Barrister Ahsan. J Pirzada

174. Misbah ul Mustafa, Lawyer

175. Asad Jamal, Lawyer

176. Umer Rehman, Lawyer

177. Raheel Ahmed, Lawyer

178. Mariam Rajper, Lawyer

179. Maira Khamisani, Lawyer

180. Maria Shah, Lawyer

181. Yusra Alvi, Architect

182. Zoya Chaudhry, Lawyer

183. Ranwal Ghanghro, Lawyer

184. Faizan Toor, Lawyer

185. Fatima Hussain, Engineer

186. Rida Bhatti, Lawyer

187. Muhammad Mehmood, Lawyer

188. Kazim Hasan, Senior Advocate Supreme Court

189. Kabir Hashmi, Lawyer

190. Shayyan Qaiser, Lawyer

191.Muhammad  Haider Imtiaz, Lawyer

192. Umair Alam, Barrister-at-Law

193. Jugnu Mohsin, MPA, PP 184 Okara, Journalist

194. Mehrunissa Sajjad, Barrister

195. Bakhtawar Bilal Soofi, Lawyer

196. Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, Lawyer

197. Qasim Abbas Khan Langa, Independent MPA PP 222, Multan

198. Alamdar Abbas Qureshi, MPA PP 255 Muzaffargarh

199. Agha Ali Haider, MPA PP 134 Nankana

200. Syed Usman Mahmud, MPA PP 264 Rahimyarkhan

201. Rais Nabeel Ahmed, PP 265 Rahimyarkhan

202. Mian Saqib Awais, PP 252 Multan

203. Ch. M Shafiq Anwar, PP 267

204. Mumtaz Ali Khan Chang, PP 266

205. Ayesha Zaigham, Concerned Citizen

206. Zainab Najeeb, Academic

207. Mehr Hussain, Writer

208. Sonya Rehman, Journalist

209. Awais Khan, Educator

210. Nashmia Arsalan, Advocate High Court

211. Qasim Ahsan, Academic

212. Maleeha Waqar, Researcher

213. Samar Masood, Lawyer

214. Nazuk Iftikhar Rao, Development Professional/Writer

215. Mekaeel Malik, Businessman

216. Mansoor Usman Awan, Advocate Supreme Court

217. Zaki Rehman, Lawyer

218. Ramsha Noshab, Lawyer

219. Umer Ijaz Gilani, Lawyer

220. Jawad ur Rahim Malik, Lawyer

221. Justice (Retd.) Nasira Iqbal, Activist

222. Munizae Jahangir, Journalist 

223. Usama Malik, Lawyer

224. Hassan Raza Sheikh, Management Consultant

225. Hassan Tahir, Educationist

226. Mohammad Jamal Ahmed, Writer

227. Zain Ul Abdin, Student & Political Organiser at PRSF

228. Assad Zulfiqar Khan, Filmmaker

229. Hassan Raza, Educationist and Community Activist

230. Suneel Malik, Activist

231. Alhan Fakhr, Freelance Journalist

232. Asma Shirazi, Journalist

233. Anya Raza, Filmmaker/Writer

234. Zoya Rehman, Lawyer/Researcher

235. Humza Aasim Yusuf, Doctor

236.Adeela Suleman, Artist, Educator

237. Amjad Nazeer, Human Rights Defender

238. Zareena Saeed, Academic

239. Tania Saeed, Academic

240. Zeeshaan Zafar Hashmi, Advocate High Court

241. Hassan Atir, Academic

242. Maheen Pracha, Human Rights Worker

243. Mangla Sharma, MPA

244. Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, Educationist

245. Shayma Saiyid, Artist

246. Khwaja Aizaz Ahsan, Advocate High Court

247. Farid Alvie,

248. Shah Rukn-e-Akam, Student

249. Ahmad Wasti,  Artist

250. Muhammad Talha Tanveer, Senior Officer, PSO

251. Nida Usman Chaudhary, Gender, Equality and Diversity Advocate

252. Prof. Ijaz Khan, Academician/ Researcher

253. Farman Ali Abbasi, Law Student

254. Malaika Raza, Human Rights Defender

255. Irfan Ghauri, Journalist

256. Sabina Gillani, Artist

257. Syed Rawal Kazmi, Lawyer

258. Mehar Khursheed, Journalist

259. Shayan Malik, Policy Analyst

260. Saifullah Nasar, Academic

261. Mustafa T. Wynne, International Relations Student, Social Activist

262. Dr. Shahnaz Rouse, Academic

263. Farida Ghias, Housewife

264. Rida Zainab, Student

265. Ahmed Waheed, Teacher

266. Aileya Shah, IR student/Activist

267. Anas

268. Zeerak Ibrahim, Student

269. Azeem Hamid, Academic / Visual Designer

270. Maria S Kazmi, Criminologist

271. Yasmin Cheema, Architect/Conservationist

272. Haiqa Shah, Student

273. Asmaa Ammar Shah, Sales/Marketing Manager

274. Hamna Khalil, Med student

275. Mir Saeed Ibrahim

276. Lala Hassan, Human Rights Defender/Media Lawyer

277. Saleem Malik, Human Rights Defender

278. Tariq Mehmood Ghouri, Human Rights Activist

279. Aliya Syed, Technical Writer/Development Practitioner

280. Mariam Aamir, Development Professional

290. Obair Ahmad Khalil, Advocate

291. Mariam Mian, Educator

292. Naazish Ata-Ullah, Artist, Educationist

293. Nada Hasan, Marketing Consultant

294. Adeel Malik, Academic

295. Adnan Qadir, Academic

296. Ayaz Ahmed Siddiqui, Academic

297. Tahir Mujtaba, Activist, Electrical Engineer

298. Sakina Hassan, Librarian

299. Muhammad Ahmed, Supply Chain Professional

300. Sonia Ahmad, Lawyer/Editor

301. Nehal Ahmad Khan

302. Farazeh Syed, Artist

303. M. Hafeez Rehman, Human Rights Worker

304. Muhammad Talal Khalid, Blogger

305. Mehr Un Nisa, Scientist

306. Elahe Mawaz, Teacher

307. Ameerah Said, Banker

308. Farida Batool, Academic

309. Muhammad Arslan Athar, Writer

310. Suffiyan Rasheed, Student

311. Fatima Najeeb Khan, Digital Marketer

312 saida Jan scientist(ret)

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