Senate approves Secrets Act amendment after curtailing agencies' power

 The Senate on Sunday passed the amended Official Secrets Act, 1923, as aggressive criticism by the treasury and opposition on the unbridled power of intelligence agencies forced the government to rescind controversial clause.

The bill was referred to the Senate committee after disapproval of the senators from the divide and the body removed the clause that gave intelligence agencies the power to arrest suspects or search without warrants. After the removal of the clause, the bill was approved.

Another amendment has been made to clause 5 of the bill, which earlier stated: “[A] person may be presumed to have been in communication with enemy or a foreign agent if he has, either within or without Pakistan visited the address of a foreign agent or consorted or associated with enemy or a foreign agent…”

The Senate committee suggested insertion of the word ‘knowingly’ after which this clause reads “…if he has either within or without Pakistan ‘knowingly’ visited the address…”, according to Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, who moved the bill on behalf of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.

He said the revised bill empowered the Federal Investigation Agency to investigate individuals suspected of violating the Official Secrets Act.

The ‘amended’ bill failed to placate the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who continued to raise questions over the wide-ranging powers being given to the intelligence agencies.

The Jamaat-i-Islami was once again in the forefront severely criticising the bill.

“The spirit of the bill remains intact despite superficial amendments. Entire Pakistan will turn into a cantonment if the bill is passed as it is,” Senator Mushtaq Ahmad warned.

He said the extraordinary powers of intelligence agencies will affect human rights, political liberties and media freedom. “It would be nothing short of a legal martial law.”

The JUI-F and the PPP, both of whom are ruling coalition partners, censured the government for moving the legislation in haste.

Senator Kamran Murtaza of JUI-F said if the legislation was so essential, the government should have moved it 15 months ago.

PPP’s Rukhsana Zuberi suggested action against investigation agencies and officials if they filed dubious cases under this law.

Earlier, PTI Senator Saifullah Abro strongly protested against the arrest of party chairman.

He indirectly blamed the PPP and the PML-N for “trampling the Constitution, the law and democratic norms.”

He urged the JUI-F senator to realistically review the data and said the CCI approved the census after all chief ministers were satisfied.

He said that the PTI government had decided that the 2023 elections would be held according to the fresh census.

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