Protection of Pakistan Bill: Diluted version of anti-terror law sails through Senate

A total of 21 amendments made to the bill.


Iftikhar Firdous June 30, 2014

ISLAMABAD:


The Senate on Monday unanimously passed the ‘controversial’ Pakistan Protection Bill 2014 (PPB) following consensus – albeit grudgingly – between the government and the opposition.


While JUI-F Senator Talha Mehmood, chairman of the Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics told the house that the committee approved the PPB “keeping in mind that it should be used on merit and not against religious seminaries”, he walked out as the Bill was being passed, accompanied by JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah.

Meanwhile, Senator Raza Rabbani conceded, “The PPP would not approve of this law under normal circumstances.”



However, he added, “The country is at war and it is the need of the hour and we have managed to insert judicial oversight as much as possible.” There are a total of 21 amendments to the Bill in its current form.

Described in the session as a ‘hard’ law, the PPB widens the scope of law enforcement agencies’ powers. Following the National Assembly’s approval, the PPB will be applicable for a period of two years. Minister of Science and Technology Zahid Hamid presented the bill in the senate on Monday, in the absence of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Hamid stated that the passage of the Act was of ‘utmost importance’ in light of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Where previously the PPB stated that the law would come into action in the event of ‘waging of war against Pakistan’, its amended form reads, ‘waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan’. Additionally, the term ‘enemy alien’ describes a person whose identity as a Pakistani is unascertainable. The use of force by armed forces has been limited to officers of Grade-15 or above and an internal inquiry by the head of the relevant law enforcement agency will be held in the event of death through the use of force. If required, all such cases will be subject to a judicial inquiry. Meanwhile, the remand period for an accused has been fixed at 60 days and, on reasonable ground, the government has the right to hold a detainee for 90 days at a designated internment camp.



The Joint Investigation Team will have the right to withhold a detainee’s information except from a High Court or Supreme Court. The government may not disclose a detainee’s information for security reasons. Additionally, on reasonable grounds, the burden of proof lies upon an ‘enemy alien’ or militant.

Cybercrimes and offences related to information technology, as well as the crossing of national boundaries illegally have been included in the list of scheduled offences. Punishments under these offences can be extended to 20 years. The PPB states that special courts will be formed in consultation with the chief justices of the High Courts and appeals against the special courts’ decisions can be made in the High Courts.

Earlier, while referring to the attack on a Pakistan International Airlines airplane in Peshawar on June 24, ANP Senator Afrasiab Khattak said Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is suffering in the tussle between the federal and provincial governments. Senators Zahid Khan and Raza Rabbani concurred, saying that the national airline must fill in for any international flight services cancelled in the wake of the attack. The opposition staged a walkout, without the MQM, after receiving an ‘unsatisfactory’ answer from the government benches with regard to the issue.

Electoral reform

On June 10, the prime minister wrote a letter to the National Assembly Speaker and Chairman Senate asking them to “ensure that elections are held in a free, fair and transparent manner”. Subsequently, Chairman Senate Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, in consultation with parliamentary leaders of political parties, was empowered on Monday to nominate members for a parliamentary committee to evaluate the shortcomings in the previous elections and forward recommendations for electoral reforms.

The motion, carried by the house, was presented by Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights Pervaiz Rashid. The motion was adopted by the National Assembly on June 21.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2014.

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