Hands up in national interest!

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Amid Operation Zarb-e-Azb against local and foreign terrorist outfits in North Waziristan Agency, the National Assembly on Wednesday passed a controversial anti-terror law, giving security forces unbridled powers, including shoot-at-sight suspects involved in terrorism, arson and murder.

The “Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014” empowers an official of grade 15 (Non Gazetted Officers/Junior Officers/JCOs) and above to issue such orders. It also allows a suspect to be kept under detention for a period of 60 days after getting judicial remand. Under the act, security forces can conduct search operations without securing warrant from a judicial officer.

To allay apprehensions of rights groups, it envisages detention centre under the supervision of courts and provisions for judicial enquiry, if anyone was killed by security agencies under its ambit.

Another important feature is the imprisonment for at least 20 years for those convicted of militancy. 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 bill was adopted with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) voting in favour of the resolution. It will remain in force for two years.

The draft bill was introduced in the National Assembly by Minister of Science and Technology Zahid Hamid on behalf of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami opposed the legislation.

BILL PREPARED IN CONSULTATION:

Hamid said the bill has been prepared after consultations with the opposition parties and their suggestions have been duly incorporated in it. He said the passage of this bill had become need of the hour after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“This law will give statutory cover to armed forces which are fighting against the enemies of the country for the revival of peace and stability. It will send a message that the government stands with the military in the operation against terrorists in FATA,” said the minister.

Hamid said necessary safeguards have been incorporated in this consensus document to avoid abuse of power and ensure protection of fundamental rights.

PPO ‘A HISTORIC LAW’:

Speaking on the occasion, Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah termed the PPO as a historic legislation.

He said that the opposition, especially the Pakistan People’s Party, will closely watch the implementation of this bill over the next two years. He said the armed forces need full support of the nation when an operation against terrorists has been launched in NWA.

“Parliament has always stood by the armed forces and will continue to do so in future,” he said, expressing the confidence that the law would not be misused by security personnel.

Addressing the occassion, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar said that the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) was necessary for national security, adding that his party leadership believes in the presence of a stern law to counter terrorism across the country.

He said that the government had made efforts to remove the opposition’s concerns on the PPO before its approval from the Senate.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that his party leadership has concerns regarding the PPO but it supports the security forces at all cost.

Shah said, “The interior minister did not give any importance to the NA,” adding that the minister should have been present in the NA to move the bill.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that the country is passing through a critical phase and greater unity amongst different segments of the society is the need of the hour. Proposing amendments in the bill, he said shoot at sight powers should not be given to any officer below Grade 17.

SALIENT FEATURES OF PPO:

The PPB seeks “to provide for protection against waging of war against Pakistan and the prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan” will provide the law enforcers with additional powers.

The bill defines “enemy alien” as “a militant” whose identity “is unascertainable as a Pakistani, in the locality where he has been arrested or in the locality where he claims to be residing, whether by documentary or oral evidence; or who has been deprived of his citizenship by naturalisation”.

The bill defines “militant” as “any person who wages war or insurrection against Pakistan, or raises arms against Pakistan, its citizens, the armed forces or civil armed forces; or takes up advocates or encourages or aids or abets the raising of arms or waging of war or a violent struggle against Pakistan; or threatens or acts or attempts to act in a manner prejudicial to the security, integrity or defence of Pakistan; or commits or threatens to commit any scheduled offence; and includes; a person who commits any act outside the territory of Pakistan for which he has used the soil of Pakistan for preparing to commit such act that constitutes scheduled offence under this act”.

“Any person against whom there are reasonable grounds that he acts under the directions or in concert or conspiracy with or in furtherance of the designs of an enemy alien” will also be treated as a militant.

The law has given the powers to law-enforcement agencies to “enter and search, without warrant any premises to make any arrest of to take possession of any firearm, explosive weapon, vehicle, instrument or article used, or likely to be used and capable of being used, in the commission of any scheduled offence”.

However, it says that “after the search, the circumstances justifying it and the items recovered shall be reported within two days to special judicial magistrate of the area by the officer conducting the search”.

According to the law, the order to shoot a person on suspicion will come only from an official of a law-enforcement agency or a police officer of grade-15 or above. Moreover, it binds the government to order a judicial enquiry, if any law-enforcement agency official opens fire on suspected terrorists.

Under the law, convicted persons will have the right to appeal before a high court against their convictions. Earlier, a convicted person had only the right to appeal before the Supreme Court.

A clause in the bill says, “The government, joint investigation team, armed forces or civil armed forces may, in the interest of the security of their personnel or for the safety of the detainee or accused or intern, as the case may be, or for any other reasonable cause withhold the information except from a high court or the Supreme Court regarding the location of the detainee or accused or intern or internment centre established or information with respect to any detainee or accused or interne or his whereabouts; provided that the judge or judges to whom the disclosure is made may decide to treat it as privileged information in the public interest; and the government may not in the interest of the security of Pakistan disclose the grounds for detention or divulge any information relating to a detainee, accused or interne who is an enemy alien or a militant.”

It further says, “Any person apprehended in the course of preparation, attempt or commission of a scheduled offence and from whom any weapon, material, vehicle, article or instrument designed for or capable of being used to commit or to facilitate the commission of the offence of bombing, suicide bombing or target killing or grievous hurt shall be presumed to be guilty of preparation, attempt or commission, as the case may be, of a scheduled offence.”

Giving explanation, the law states, “A cell phone or other instrument that contains logs or evidence of calls or messages made or received that facilitate the preparation, attempt or commission of such an offence, shall be deemed to be such an instrument and any record thereon or therein shall be admissible in evidence.”