Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights in its meeting on Friday discussed ‘The maintenance and welfare of old parents and senior citizens bill, 2019’ moved by Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmed and called it a necessity of the hour and the protection is very much called for as there are 14 million old people in country making 12% of the Pakistani population. The ministry responded that the government has also worked on a similar piece of legislation which is aimed at tackling the same issue from the rights perspective and not just the welfare perspective. The Chairman Committee, however, was of the view that the ministry has committed to bring many bills over the last one year but hasn’t succeeded in bringing any and also observed that this bill under consideration is more comprehensive than the salient features of the upcoming government bill.
Three meeting was held under three chairmanship of Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar here at the Parliament House on Friday and was attended among others by Senators Dr. Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Dr. Mehr Taj Roughani, Muhammad Tahir Bizenjo, Keshoo Bai, Rana Maqbool Ahmed, Ayesha Raza Farooq, Kamran Micheal, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, officials from the human rights ministry. The committee members observed that human rights and welfare is an inter-mingled responsibility now a days and both have to be considered simultaneously and collectively. The committee decided to call law division to the next meeting as well as see the draft of the human rights ministry to club both legislations and comes up with an all inclusive bill. The committee also recommended to take meaningful steps to facilitate senior citizens in hospitals, banks and other public places and present report to the committee within fifteen days.
The committee discussed in detail the matter of media freedom in the country in the light of recent reports by international media and human rights organisations and the alleged censorship by PEMRA of opposition’s interviews and press conferences. The Committee expressed surprise at the absence of Chairman PEMRA from a meeting with such an important agenda and was not satisfied with the statement given by representatives of PEMRA who denied giving any orders to any private media channels to stop coverage of opposition leaders’ press conferences or interviews. The Committee was told that the only directions PEMRA has given are to strictly adhere to the code of conduct formulated by media broadcasters themselves in 2015.
Members of the Committee were of the view that PEMRA act needs to be made less vague and more specific to make it a more responsible regulatory body. Members also called for strengthening National Commission of Human Rights to act as a moderator in disputes between media houses and PEMRA. The Committee unanimously decided to form a sub-committee to further investigate and fix responsibilities if PEMRA is being used as a vehicle to undermine the Article 19 of the Constitution by calling Chairman PEMRA along with officials and all other stakeholders. It also decided to take FIA in the loop to assist the committee in forensic investigation of any orders given on calls or messages within a month. The Committee decided to propose to Chairman Senate to call a meeting of the committee of the whole on the issue and also decided to write to the Chief Justice of Pakistan as he had earlier expressed his concerns on the shrinking media space in the country. The Committee also encouraged media houses and individuals to report any and all such cases to the sub-committee.
The Committee also discussed the matter of number of convicted prisoners in different prisons of the country who belong to other provinces and steps taken for their transfer/repatriation to home provinces. The Committee was told that consultations are under way to make the process smooth and committee’s help in this relation will be fruitful. The Committee also directed the IG Prisons of all provinces to ensure that no discrimination is done in providing facilities to prisoners on any basis. The Committee will take a detailed briefing in the next meeting on possibility if a mechanism to pay for the prisoners who have completed their terms but are suffering due to inability to pay their fines.