ISLAMABAD: In a landmark development, on its opening day of a new session, the Senate Monday unanimously passed a bill criminalising torture and custodial deaths.
The Torture and Custodial Death Prevention and Punishment Bill was moved in the House by the PPP Parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman and was welcomed by the treasury benches. This was seen as indication that it will pass through the treasury-dominated National Assembly without any obstacle to become an act of the Parliament after an assent accorded by the president.
It was a private members day and the proceedings remained by and large smooth, unlike the majority of sessions in the past. Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari remarked, “It is a much needed bill. It is necessary and urgent.” When the leave was sought from the House to introduce the bill, which prescribes a punishment with imprisonment for a term, not less than three years, which may extend to ten years and with fine, which may extend to two million rupees to those who commit, abet or conspires to commit torture.
The fine, if recovered, shall be paid to the legal heirs of the victim or to the victim as the case may be. In case fine is not recovered, additional imprisonment shall be awarded which may extend to five years. Likewise, ‘whoever commits, or abets or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death or custodial sexual violence, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and with fine, which may extend to three million rupees,’ the bill reads.
Accordingly, no person shall be detained in order to extract information, regarding the whereabouts of a person accused of any offence or to extract evidence from such person. It also prohibits a male taking or holding in custody a female.
The bill makes it clear that any statement which appears to have been obtained as a result of torture, shall be inadmissible, and shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Every offence punishable under the Act shall be non-compoundable and non-bailable within the meaning of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
Senator Sherry was on her feet to thank the Senate members for their support for the bill and explained that there was currently no law in Pakistan which criminalises or explicitly defines torture. “This bill provides a comprehensive definition of torture, delineating its various constituent elements. Torture by police and other law enforcement agencies is endemic and prevalent in Pakistan. The inhumane practice is so common that it is largely considered a routine part of criminal investigation,” she noted.
“Torture in custody is widely used to obtain confessions from people, whether in the criminal justice system or vulnerable members of society in general, especially those with no connections in the corridors of power. If Pakistan is serious about dismantling the use of torture from its policing methods, then it must begin by dismantling the impunity with which the practice is routinely carried out in its most deadly forms across the country with impunity, especially in the lock ups of Punjab, where countless deaths via torture in custody have been reported last year. No province, however, is exempted from this practice,” she said.
The government, earlier, had to suffer a defeat as it failed to block introduction of a bill seeking an explanation from the president on the compelling grounds for promulgation of an ordinance: The bill sought to be moved by former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani was opposed by the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan.
When count was made, as many as 37 members voted in favour of the leave to introduce the bill, while it was opposed by 33 lawmakers of the government.
Speaking on the bill seeking to amend Article 89 of the constitution, Rabbani said the President has the powers to promulgate an ordinance under exceptional circumstances when after application of his mind he reaches the conclusion that heavens will fall if it was not done urgently.
Under the proposed amendment, he seeks to add a provision to Article 89 of the Constitution, binding the president to record the compelling and extraordinary circumstances to become part of the ordinance’s preamble. The bill also seeks to make laying of money bills before both houses of the Parliament.
PTI’s Senator Walid Iqbal asked as to why the president’s powers had not been curtailed when the 18th Amendment had been passed. He also pointed out that the matter is subjudiced before the Islamabad High Court and thus the proposed bill was ill-timed.
The Minister of State for parliamentary affairs opposed the bill and said that there must be trust in holders of constitutional offices and added it would be inappropriate to seek explanations from the president.
To this, Rabbani criticised the minister for ‘fortifying President Arif Alvi and trying to present him as the Pope’. He said under Article 50 of the Constitution, the president was part of the Parliament and there was no harm if he explains the reasons of taking away the powers of the Parliament to it: He is not above the Parliament.
Another bill moved by Rabbani seeking to amend the CPEC Authority Act was also opposed by the government as an attempt to pack up CPEC. The House, however, gave leave to introduce the bill by a voice vote, and the bill was referred to the standing committee concerned.
Senators from the opposition benches urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to take the Parliament and leaders of political parties on board with regards to the government’s strategy and preparedness in view of the evolving alarming situation in Afghanistan.
They contended that putting aside political considerations, he should come to the Parliament on this matter of national security.
One senator wanted the government in the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to discourage such elements while referring to the recent pro-Taliban rally, held in Peshawar.
Another senator warned that Afghanistan had become volatile and that Pakistan should draw up its strategy in the backdrop of Afghanistan’s prevailing situation and the events, unfolding there and that the menace of terrorism could not be curbed by merely fencing of Pak-Afghan border, as the great China wall had failed to stop Chengiz Khan.
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan told the Senate that as part of the efforts to counter and combat terrorism, as many as 3,227 individuals had been put on Schedule Four while 5,557 bank accounts closed.
Winding up a debate on a motion, moved by Senator Bahramand Tangi, the minister said that the state institutions were quite vigilant and had to a great extent controlled the menace of terrorism through diverse measures. He added that Rs2,888.7 million were frozen, whereas 79 organisations had been proscribed and four of them were under observation.
Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Wasim called for input from political parties, having representation in the Parliament and that there should be no political point scoring on this matter. He added that a marathon security briefing was given to the political leadership recently.
Speaking on a motion in relation to FATF conditions, the opposition and treasury senators were of the view that keeping Pakistan in the gray list was more a political issue than a technical one and the opposition lawmakers insisted that the government should go for a strong diplomatic offensive, remembering there were countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia in FATF.
Speaking on another motion on Dr Aafia Siddiqui, Ali Muhammad Khan made it clear that neither the nation, nor the prime minister or the government had forgotten her and efforts were on for her release from US jail. The House will now resume on Tuesday afternoon.
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