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November 14, 2019

What hotly-debated ECL law says

Top Story

November 14, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, promulgated by Gen Ziaul Haq regime on December 21, 1981, arms the federal government with sweeping powers to stop any person from leaving Pakistan.

Related: Govt, PML-N firmly dig in

Currently, the brief Exit Control List (ECL) law is under heated discussion in the context of the question of dispensing with the prohibition placed on deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the federal government to travel abroad.

The law doesn’t talk about imposition of any conditions to erase a name from the ECL, its close reading shows. Also, there is no mention of any department including the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the ECL law and it solely empowers the federal government when it comes to putting foreign travel restriction on any person.

Read also: PTI leader, MQM senator oppose govt conditions

It always happened that successive governments and the persons, facing such bars, failed to resolve the issue and ultimately superior courts are involved to settle it. The instant matter is also going to be taken to a superior court by Nawaz Sharif’s lawyers especially when the two high courts have ruled that he can get treatment of his choice anywhere he wants.

The law says the federal government may, by order, prohibit any person or class of persons from proceeding from Pakistan to a destination outside Pakistan, notwithstanding the fact that he is in possession of valid travel documents.

Before making an order, the government shall not necessarily afford an opportunity of showing cause to the person against the order. If, while making such an order, it appears to the government that it will not be in the public interest to specify the grounds on which the order is proposed to be made, it shall not be necessary for the government to specify them.

The law gives the right of review to the aggrieved person, which will also be filed with the government. It says the person hurt by such the government order may, within 15 days, make a representation to it for review, setting out the grounds on which he seeks it.

The government may, after giving the person making a representation an opportunity of being heard, make such order as it may deem fit. Subject to the government order in review, an order shall be final and shall not be called in question before any courts or other authority.

The law further says whoever contravenes, or attempts or conspires to contravene, or abets the contravention of any such order shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years. Such rows generally land in the superior courts.

Sometime back, the Supreme Court had struck off the ECL names of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal in the money laundering through fake bank accounts case.

However, in March, 2016 the Supreme Court had left it to the federal government to take a decision on the question of keeping or eliminate Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf’s name from the ECL. “Take your own decision about this matter,” a five-member bench headed by the Chief Justice had ruled and pointed out that while the apex court has not put any restrictions on Musharraf’s travel abroad, it is for the government to decide whether or not his name should be deleted from the ECL.

Within days after this decision, Musharraf left for abroad, leaving behind an intense controversy as to whether the then Nawaz Sharif government or the apex court allowed him to proceed abroad.

The then Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt had said that there is apprehension that once Musharraf is allowed to leave Pakistan, he would never return to face the high-treason trial. The former dictator’s lawyer Farogh Naseem [now federal law minister who is heading a cabinet subcommittee on ECL], had challenged the remark calling it patently presumptuous.

In June 2014, the Sindh High Court (SHC) ordered the exclusion of Musharraf’s name from the ECL. However, a two-member bench had immediately suspended this order for around two weeks giving the federal government time to appeal against the decision before the Supreme Court. It was stated that the order will be enforced in 15 days in case the government fails to file an appeal by then.

Farogh Naseem had said that a memorandum, which placed Musharraf’s name on the ECL, will be struck down after 15 days. He stated that if the federal government does not have a vengeful objective, it can withdraw the memo before this period is up. He added that right to travel is a fundamental right and Musharraf does not want to live as a convict.

In 2015, process for rationalisation of the ECL was initiated during the Nawaz Sharif government. Thousands of names were erased from it as the new policy came into effect. Some of them had been on the ECL for over a decade.

It was then emphasized the need for rationalisation as the ECL, which contained several names that had been put on it on the basis of personal grudges and with mala fide intent. It was decided that under the new policy a name will be put on the ECL only after scrutiny by a four-member committee of the interior ministry.