ISLAMABAD - Senate Standing Committee on Interior Wednesday unanimously passed controversial Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPB)-2014 with a number of amendments proposed by the opposition parties in the Senate.
The bill, which has already been passed by the National Assembly, will go back to the Lower House if the Senate passed it. The Senate had referred the PPB to the interior committee on April 18. It is likely that the government would soon summon both the houses of the Parliament to get the proposed law passed and make it an act of the Parliament.
A committee of the opposition parties including Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan and Mian Raza Rabbani, after negotiations with the Minister of Science and Technology Zahid Hamid, had proposed a number of amendments in the proposed bill.
At the outset of the Interior committee meeting that met under the chair of JUI-F lawmaker Talha Mahmood, Zahid Hamid told the participants that the government had decided to incorporate all the amendments proposed by the committee led by Aitzaz Ahsan and Mian Raza Rabbani.
He said that all the parties had been taken on board to develop a consensus on the law as desired by PM Nawaz Sharif. He also said that the opposition committee had held lengthy deliberations with the government before proposing the amendments in PPB.
The committee unanimously passed all the proposed amendments of the opposition committee with small changes in them. According the proposed amendments as passed by the committee, the Act shall remain in force for a period of two years, instead of three, from the date of enforcement.
The committee proposed that the Act should come into force at once in whole of Pakistan. The definition of enemy alien has been changed and now the enemy alien means a militant whose identity is unascertainable. The word militant has also been defined in the proposed amendments.
Under the proposed amendment, the detention period for an accused has been reduced from 90 days to 60 days and special judicial magistrate would give orders of judicial remand for an extendable period, not exceeding 15 days for one time.
It has been proposed in the bill that all cases of firing which result in death may, if the facts and circumstances so warrant, be reviewed in a judicial inquiry conducted by a person appointed by the federal government. The original bill only provided for an internal inquiry committee constituted by the concerned law enforcement agency.
It has also been added in the bill that shooting orders would be given on the basis of credible prior information about a person and on apprehension of circumstances on the scene that a person can cause harm and the situation may lead to grievous hurt, or a judgement based on events or a sequence of events on site.
An amendment has been proposed that after the search of any premises, the circumstance 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.
It has been proposed that federal government shall make regulations to regulate the internment centres, internment camps, mechanism for representation against the internment orders and judicial oversight of such camps, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 9.The judicial oversight was missing in the bill as passed by NA.
The age criteria of the judges of the Special Courts under the ACT has been changed and fixed up to 70 years of age and it has been added that any person who is or has been an advocate of the High Court for a period not less than five years may be appointed as Special Judicial Magistrate besides others.
Another amendment has been proposed that the government, joint investigation team and armed forces or civil armed forces could withhold the information of detention of any detainee except a high court or Supreme Court regarding the location of the detainee. The words high court or Supreme Court was missing in the original bill. Now an appeal against the final judgement of a special court shall lie to the high court. Earlier it lied to the Supreme Court only.
Section 3 of the bill has also been amended on a proposal of MQM lawmaker Tahir Hussain Mashhadi and under the amendment any police officer not below the rank of grade 15 will be authorised to order fire on a suspect. However, no change has been made regarding armed forces or civil armed forces in connection with this clause.
Mr Mashhadi and two committee members of PPP were insisting that a police officer of grade 17 or above should be authorised to do this however Attorney General of Pakistan Suleman Butt was of the view that this was tantamount to disgrace the police force in war areas.
Earlier, information minister Senator Pervez Rasheed, who attended the meeting as member, during the meeting said that there were more strict laws in the world than this, as extraordinary situations needed extraordinary laws. The committee showed its apprehension that the law might be misused like police misused its authority in Model Tow Lahore. Talha Mahmood endorsed this point.
But Pervez Rasheed said that any law of the world could be misused and enforcement of laws could not be prevented on this apprehension. Mashhadi questioned about the guarantee that the law would not be wrongfully used against opposition parties. The government rejected a proposal of Tahir Mashhadi to give shooting orders to executive magistrates, saying magistracy system did not exist in most parts of the country.
Advisor to PM Khawaja Zaheer said that chief of army staff in the presence of prime minister had said that they were operating without any umbrella of law. “Enemy is lurking in our sleeves,” he said. The government also rejected a proposal of punishment to the officials who would misuse this law and federal science and technology minister Zahid Hamid said, “It was a special law.”