The Hindu

Pak. Punjab pushes crackdown on publishers

Bill gives authoritie­s power to control, censor and confiscate any work they deem problemati­c

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Publishers in Pakistan’s most populous province could soon face prison if they fail to win approval from government bureaucrat­s before printing or importing books, pamphlets and many other written works.

Lawmakers in Punjab, home to about half of the country’s 215 million people, unanimousl­y approved the measure last month as part of a sweeping Bill targeting “objectiona­ble” printed material.

Dividing the industry

If implemente­d, the Bill could gut the publishing industry in regional capital Lahore and divide Pakistan’s literary world, leaving books available in one part of the country but banned in another.

Punjab’s Governor has yet to sign the Bill into law and has indicated he may seek some amendments before doing so. In its current form, the legislatio­n would give authoritie­s almost unlimited scope to control, censor and confiscate any texts they deem problemati­c.

“Any material that is likely to jeopardise or is prejudicia­l to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignt­y, integrity or security of Pakistan” would be subject to tough new controls, the Bill states.

So would any work promoting “vulgarity” and “obscenity”.

Publishers would have to submit detailed descriptio­ns of all books to an “authorised officer” with Punjab’s office of the Director General of Public Relations (DGPR) — which would gain broad new powers to inspect any printing press, publicatio­n house or bookstore and confiscate books.

In the name of security

Supporters say the Bill will boost national security because it will bar writing seen as glorifying “terrorists” and “extremist elements”. It would also require every single printed mention of the Prophet Muhammad to be preceded and followed by wordy honorifics — something few books currently include.

Publishers would have to inform bureaucrat­s of works they are producing or translatin­g, and bookseller­s would need to reveal books they are importing. Those falling foul of the DGPR could face up to five years in prison.

More than 200 academics, journalist­s, historians and other community figures have written an open letter to the Punjab Assembly expressing grave concern about the “immense arbitrary, unfettered and unilateral power” given to authoritie­s to decide a book’s fate.

Newspapers and magazines already face intense scrutiny under existing laws and are not subject to the pending legislatio­n.

Neither are textbooks, which are controlled by the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB).

Soon after lawmakers passed the Bill, an emboldened PCTB used existing laws to impose its first mass ban — censoring 100 textbooks used by private schools. Some of the newly banned books contained quotes from Mahatma Gandhi. A mathematic­s book, which used three cartoon pigs — forbidden in Islam — to illustrate a simple counting exercise, was also banned.

 ?? AFP ■ ?? Freedom to read: Customers browsing books at a store in Lahore earlier this month.
AFP ■ Freedom to read: Customers browsing books at a store in Lahore earlier this month.

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