August 2023 | Series of controversial legislation passed
Pakistan's outgoing government enacted four new laws before handing over to a caretaker administration who will oversee the next general elections. Critics and rights experts argue the bills were hastily passed without due deliberation. These include the Pakistan Army (Amendment Act), penalizing sensitive security information disclosure; the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, enhancing intelligence agencies' powers; and the Personal Data Protection and E-Safety Bills, restricting media access to detailed personal information - especially of government officials. The former two bills also propose penalties that include jail sentences for defaming the military amid concerns about military involvement in civilian trials. Similarly, the latter two raised worries about government control over social media, potential press freedom limitations, and access to government data. The legality of the former two bills, criticized for enhancing military powers, has further come into question after President Arif Alvi denied approving them, noting that he had "disagreed" with them and claiming that he had asked his staff to return the bills unsigned. He alleged that his staff had "undermined my will and command.”
July 2023 | Pakistani Court strikes down key provisions in transgender rights bill
The Federal Shariah Court (FSC) ruled on 19 May that certain sections of the Transgender Rights Bill 2018 relating to the right to self-defined gender identity, among other rights, are contrary to Islamic principles. Activists and lawyers championing LGBTQIA+ rights have vowed to contest the ruling in the Supreme Court, with the FSC decision taking effect in six months unless successfully appealed. Incidents of transgender individuals struggling to officially register their gender on official documents since the ruling emerged in July. The 2018 bill is globally regarded as a progressive legislation advancing transgender rights, with rights experts noting that the FSC's verdict significantly hampers LGBTQIA+ rights progress in Pakistan.
June 2023 | Crackdown on critical voices persists
Coverage of former prime minister Imran Khan has been banned on all news channels following the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA) directive to "blackout" hate speech and persons involved in the 9 May riots, which had been directed toward the country’s military establishment and triggered by Khan’s arrest on corruption charges. Political analysts note that the ban is part of a wider trend of instituting politically motivated bans to crack down on voices critical of the state and military. Moreover, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution on 12 June demanding speedy action against 9 May rioters under the Army Act. According to a military spokesperson, at least 102 people are being tried through military courts due to their involvement in the protests under the purview of anti-terrorism legislation. Human rights groups have condemned the use of such courts to try and prosecute civilians.
May 2023 | Political crisis escalates amid violent protests
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been granted bail following his arrest on 9 May over cases relating to corruption charges. Khan's arrest set off nationwide protests against the country's military establishment, which included attacks on government buildings and military installations. The government deployed troops and arrested thousands of Khan supporters including members of the opposition for inciting violence, as well as blocked internet services in a bid to quell the unrest. Pakistani authorities further noted that those arrested will be tried before military courts - a move widely condemned by human rights groups. UN experts have urged the government to exercise restraint in upholding the right to a fair trial.