September 5, 2022 – A petition has been filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the legality of criminal defamation provisions as laid out in the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (PPC) in light of Article 19 of the Constitution.
The petition, a copy of which is available with Digital Rights Monitor (DRM), cites the federation as respondent and seeks to challenge Sections 499 (defamation), 500 (punishment for defamation), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), and 502 (sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter) of the PPC.
The application terms these provisions “inconsistent” with the right to free speech and expression granted in Article 19 of the Constitution and “offensive” to the state’s obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The petition states that, at the time of its promulgation in 1973, Article 19 included defamation as a category of speech which was not protected pursuant to the said article. However, with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in 1975, the term “defamation” was excluded from the categories of speech that is unprotected and replaced with “incitement to an offence”.
“And in view of the constitutional change, it is evident that the Constitution does not proscribe defamatory hate speech, against which a civil remedy is available under the Defamation Act 2013,” says the petition.
The court has sought a report from the federation in the next three weeks and also issued notice to the Attorney General for Pakistan as the “subject matter of the petition involves interpretation of the Constitution”. The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have also been invited by the court to file amicus briefs on the constitutionality of defamatory speech before the next hearing.