Pakistani security personnel working at the scene after an attack on a Pakistani journalist in Karachi. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s cabinet has approved two long-awaited bills for the protection of journalists and media professionals and criminalising the forced disappearances in the country.

Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari confirmed the approval. The Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill and the Forced or Involuntary Disappearance (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill would now be tabled before the National Assembly during its next session.

The minister thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for support and approval of the bills, saying “the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) delivers on commitments”.

Welcoming the development, the Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan, Androulla Kaminara said the two bills are important as these are “also referred to in the GSP+ obligations of Pakistan”. She hoped for the swift and smooth parliamentary process which is important for the prompt adoption of the bills.

German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck also termed the bills “very important” for the “protection of human rights” and linked it to Pakistan’s GSP+ commitments. He also congratulated PM Imran Khan and his cabinet on the “significant step” and expressed hope for swift implementation.

Last week, the European Parliament called on the European External Action Service (EEAS) for a review of Pakistan’s GSP+ status due to concerns over the blasphemy laws and human rights record. Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) status offers Pakistan duty free access to the markets of EU - one of its biggest trading partners.

Features of protection of journalists bill

The Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill 2021 would define basic rights to journalists and media professionals, and ensure their safety under the law.

The law would offer “Journalists and media professionals right to carry out their journalistic work in conflict-affected areas within the country, without threats, intimidation, harassment or fear of persecution or targeting”. The government would take all steps to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of any person, institution (private or public) or authority, the official document reads.

A commission for the protection of journalists and media professionals, with representation from the media unions and press clubs, would be formed to provide redressal and compensation to journalists facing threats and investigate the complaints of threats, harassment, any violent attacks, or killing. A journalist welfare scheme would also be initiated under which media owners would have to ensure a written safety policy and protocols for journalists.

Pakistan’s journalist community has hailed the bill aimed at ensuring the safety of journalists allowing them to report safely without any fear.

The details of the bill criminalising forced disappearances have not been disclosed yet.