LAHORE - Women Democratic Front (WDF) has expressed deep concerns at the blatant attempt at increased state censorship through the Tahafuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly on July 22.

In a statement on Sunday, the WDF President, Ismat Shahjahan said the Tahafuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Bill is transparent ploy attack at the already shrinking space for intellectual independence and religious freedom by threatening to monitor and censor books, magazine, pamphlets and other reading material published and imported into Pakistan in the name of protection of religion.

Through the passage of this bill, the state wishes to trample even further on freedom of thought and expression in the country, and stifle any dissenting discourse.

She said under this bill, the Directorate General Public Relations will have the power to inspect printing presses, publication houses and bookstores and declare any material “objectionable,” or detrimental to “national interest and culture”.

WDF calls upon all progressive forces to join hands to demand our elected legislators to repeal this bill with immediate effect

Expressing her apprehension at the bill, Ismat Shahjahan said that if converted into law, “It potentially opens a whole new avenue of misuse of law against the most vulnerable sections of society, including religious minorities. We are likely to see an increase in people being charged under dubious ‘crimes’ as this bill is used for extortion, harassment and for settling personal scores.”

WDF General Secretary, Ayla Bakhsal, called upon the Governor of Punjab to not ratify the bill and condemned those political parties who claim to fight for the rights of minorities and yet voted for the bill. “Political parties who claim to stand with women, religious minorities and the working class, and for political, intellectual and religious freedom, have disappointed us with their support for this bill. It will be harder than ever to question, argue and disagree with the official narrative with this law being used as yet another means to silence any opposition. This bill goes against the constitution which guarantees right to free speech and press”

It is no secret that religious, intellectual, academic, and political freedoms are under attack in Pakistan. Efforts to silence academics, journalists, and political workers through force have been increasing while right-wing forces are making it harder for non-Muslim Pakistanis to practice their religion freely. This bill will provide legal cover to this crackdown, further incite religious intolerance, and reduce the small space available for holding power to account, added Tooba Syed, secretary information WDF.

The Women Democratic Front calls upon all progressive forces in the country to join hands in calling upon our elected legislators to repeal this bill with immediate effect, and stand with the forces of freedom rather than against them.