By Ifrah Waqar
Jul 9, 2014

A Draconian LawThe Protection of Pakistan Bill has finally been passed by both the houses of Parliament. This much hyped Bill was first presented in October 2013 in the National Assembly by the name of Pakistan Protection Ordinance, but the government was not able to get it passed due to some controversial clauses which were heavily criticized and slammed by both the media and the civil society. This Bill, however, was then amended and named Protection of Pakistan in January 2014.

The Protection of Pakistan Bill was then presented in the Senate and was passed unanimously. Then it was tabled in the National Assembly on July 2, 2014, and there too it was accepted, thus making this Bill into an Act of law. It is applicable for the next two years.

The critics of this legislation have declared it to be in clear violation of not only the Constitution of Pakistan but also to be against the United Nations Convention against torture. For example, it allows any law enforcement official of Grade 15 and above to shoot anyone he/she suspects to be a terrorist. The officials (armed and civilian), under this Act would be allowed to “enter and search, without warrant, any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, fire-arm, weapon or article used or likely to be used…” Moreover, the Act enables the authorities to hold an individual in detention for a period of up to 60 days without presenting the detainee before a court.

The Protection of Pakistan Bill calls for the creation of special courts and Joint Investigation Teams consisting of armed and civil forces to hold investigations against those accused. The forces would have to inform the special courts about the location of their investigative centres.

The suspects held under this Act would be not be granted bail, and “A person arrested or detained under this Ordinance whose identity is unascertainable shall be considered as an enemy alien.” It means that if a person cannot prove his/her identity, and their neighbours fail to recognize them, he/she would be considered an “enemy alien” who is waging war against the state of Pakistan unless he/she can prove otherwise.

The Act also states: “acts that are calculated to influence or affect the conduct of Government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct” are also punishable under this Act. It means the government can crackdown on legitimate protestors and processions under the cover of this law and use it as a means to achieve their own political objectives, thus hampering people’s democratic and constitutional rights by legalizing unchecked use of violence by the State and legitimizing State oppression.

It is not too far-fetched to speculate that the Act would create impunity for the State to hold people in illegal detention which could result in an increase in the number of cases of missing persons in the country which would further create chaos and instability in the country.

This bill violates the fundamental human rights like the freedom of speech as one of the scheduled offenses state “crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offences related to information technology etc”.

This clearly states the underlying agenda of the government about how it wants to restrict and control the cyber space. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. If the authorities think the state can strip its citizens of their opinion and their voices then they are gravely mistaken as such tactics adopted to terrorise its citizens have not worked before and will not do so even in the future.

National security is perhaps the most important aspect of any state and a state can go to any length to protect and preserve it but it should not be merged with freedom.  National security and freedom should not be exclusive to each other. There is a difference between a police state and a democratic one and that difference should be evident in the policies and laws implemented by the state. Any laws which magnify black spots in the systems which the agencies or the government can utilise to their own interests should be discouraged especially when the laws categorically state that any person accused or who commits a crime in the scheduled offenses listed in the Protection of Pakistan (Amendment) immediately comes under the “cognizable and non-bailable offense.”

On the other hand, proponents of this bill argue that in these testing times especially in the light of the on-going military operation in the country, the bill was the need of the time. They are of the view that in the light of the current ground realities of Pakistan, the constitution does not embody full punishments and the methods to deal with the terrorists and this bill provides with a way to apprehend these terrorists.

All in all, it is pertinent that the government ensures that this law is not used for perusing personal vindictive agendas and to carry out extra judicial killings. However, it should be kept in mind that what benefit this Protection of Pakistan will have when the other laws pertaining to maintain the law and order situation in the country are not fully enforced. When the trials are delayed and there is no accountability of the executive then it would not be wrong to say that such laws or bills will not make a significant impact in the longer run.

The writer is currently working as Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS). The views expressed in this article are of writers’ own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

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