Thursday May 23, 2024

Senate adopts Official Secrets bill after removing clause that sparked outrage

Law minister says provision empowering agencies to carry out raids without warrants removed

By Mumtaz Alvi
August 07, 2023
The inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. — Radio Pakistan
The inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. — Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The federal law minister Sunday withdrew bill to “curb violent extremism” that faced massive resistance in the Senate from the opposition as well as the ruling coalition partners, including the PMLN senators.

The House passed some other bills including the one to privatise national flag-carrier, with the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar revealing that the PIA with the liabilities of Rs743 billion was bearing a loss of Rs71 billion per year. He warned that liabilities will reach Rs1970 billion, if things go on for another seven years.

Taj Haider of PPP rose to oppose the move and said that the experiment of privatisation had failed in Pakistan and must not be tried again.

The Senate Sunday passed the Official Secrets Amendment Bill, 2023, but after deletion of the clause, which envisaged the authority to the intelligence agencies to make arrests without warrants.

The House first adopted the report of the standing committee concerned, which had added amended the proposed legislation.

Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar then moved the bill in the House on behalf of Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah for adoption. The bill has already been passed by the National Assembly. The minister emphasized that the revised legislation empowered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate individuals suspected of violating the Official Secrets Act.

He pointed out the word ‘knowingly’ had been added to a clause which in original form was “a person may be presumed to be in communication with enemy or a foreign agent, if he has either within or outside Pakistan visited the address”.

He said the main objection pertained to the power of the agencies to arrest without warrant had been withdrawn adding that certain words on which the members had raised objections had also been removed.

The minister, however, contended that the legislation should be seen without prejudice to give protection to the military personnel and intelligence agencies people offering sacrifices in the war zones.

The National Party’s Tahir Bizenjo rose to say that they had objection to giving powers to the agencies to arrest without warrants, which had been withdrawn and now they had no objection on this count.

JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza opined that there was a question mark on who would form the next government; therefore, the bill must be corrected, as ‘you can become its victim otherwise’.

He emphasized that if the legislation was so essential, then the government should have done it 15 months ago.

Mian Raza Rabbani also insisted on another review of the proposed legislation.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad contended that the spirit of the bill remained intact despite what he called superficial amendments.

“The entire Pakistan will turn into a cantonment if the bill is passed as it presently is,” he warned.

He added that extraordinary powers to intelligence agencies will affect human rights, political liberties and media freedom and that it would be nothing short of a legal martial law.

PPP’s Rukhsana Zuberi said action must be taken against investigation agencies or officials of all the departments involved if it was established that the case was a fake.