PTI's Qureshi arrested as Alvi signs Official Secrets, Army act into law

Interim interior minister confirms Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s arrest n Sarfaraz Bugti says Qureshi taken into custody in connection with cipher probe n PTI claims Qureshi shifted to FIA HQs after raid at his residence.

ISLAMABAD  -  In a surprise move, President Dr Arif Alvi Saturday signed into law the Official Se­crets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Paki­stan Army Act (Amend­ment) Bill, 2023. A few hours later, the feder­al investigation agen­cy arrested Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and booked him under the Official Secrets Act in a case pertaining to a dip­lomatic cipher.

Most interesting­ly, President Alvi just three days ago refused to sign over a dozen bills including the offi­cial secrets act. He had sent more than a dozen bills back to Parliament earlier this week. 

Since the National As­sembly was dissolved on August 9, the Par­liament is unable to ap­prove legislation, and laws cannot be altered or implemented un­til after the anticipat­ed election in February, when a new parliament will be sworn in.

Following approv­al of the bills from both the Senate and Nation­al Assembly, a move that drew criticism from lawmakers belonging to both treasury and op­position benches, they were presented to the president for a final nod.

The National Assem­bly, on July 31, passed the Pakistan Army (Amend­ment) Bill, 2023, aiming to penalise individuals with a potential five-year imprisonment term for disclosing sensitive in­formation concerning national security or the armed forces. Separate­ly, the Official Secrets Act was greenlit just a few days before the dissolu­tion of the National As­sembly on August 7.

Both bills were finally approved by the president, too, after contentious pro­visions were removed by parliament due to strong objections from rights ad­vocates and senators.

PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi was ar­rested from his residence in Islamabad on Saturday evening soon after he ad­dressed a press conference at the National Press Club. 

“PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been illegally arrested once again,” the social media post on the party’s account said, adding that he was taken into custody by a large con­tingent of police from his residence in Islamabad. The party said Qureshi was be­ing taken to the Federal In­vestigation Agency (FIA) Headquarters.

PTI General Secretary Omar Ayub also shared the news of Qureshi’s ar­rest on X, saying that he was taken into cus­tody just as he reached home after addressing a press conference. “Vice Chairman Pakistan Teh­reek-e-Insaf Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureishi sahib arrested from his house in Islamabad 25 minutes ago. He had just reached home after doing a Press Conference. Con­demn this in the stron­gest words possible. Had hoped that the reign of lawlessness would have ended after the exit of the Fascist PDM Government, but it appears that this Caretaker Government wants to break the re­cords of their predecessor Fascist Govt,” he said on X.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s arrest comes just two months after his release in a case pertain­ing to May 9 protests. He was taken into custody on May 11 by the Islamabad police on several charges, including “inciting violent protests”. May 9 protests had erupted following the arrest of party chairman Imran Khan in a graft case.

On May 18, the Islam­abad High Court had or­dered release of the for­mer foreign minister. However, his release was delayed due to his appar­ent reluctance to provide an undertaking to refrain from engaging in “unruly” protests.

However, he was final­ly set free on May 23 but again taken into custody by Punjab police from out­side Adiala Jail after his detention orders were is­sued by the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner. He was eventually released on June 6 after Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench set aside his deten­tion orders and ordered his immediate release.

Earlier, Qureshi con­demned the action taken against a PTI leader from Sialkot, Usman Dar and also denied any rift among the party leadership.

The FIA registered a case against PTI chair­man Imran Khan and vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi on August 15 for leaking cipher content in a highly irresponsible man­ner. The act carries grave consequences being an open violation of the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

It is likely that this case would be tried under the relevant clauses of the Of­ficial Secret Act. The ci­pher content was used for political objectives which damaged Pakistan’s re­pute and prestige on the diplomatic front. Recent­ly, the cipher content was leaked to a foreign jour­nal, ‘Intercept’, apparently for political gains.

The act warrants strict action against the culprits so that they are brought to justice and no one dares to repeat such an act in future.

Interim Interior Min­ister Sarfaraz Bugti con­firmed Qureshi’s arrest on a private TV channel stat­ing that the former foreign minister was taken into custody in an investigation pertaining to the cipher. “He (Qureshi) is nominat­ed in the case and will soon be presented in the court,” Bugti said, adding, “We have to enforce the law and all those nominated in the cipher case will be arrest­ed and presented in court.”

When asked whether Qureshi’s detention was linked to a press confer­ence he held right be­fore his arrest and where he confirmed that he had held meetings with for­eign envoys in recent days, Bugti replied in the negative. However, sever­al PTI leaders claim that the arrest is linked to the press conference, where Qureshi also refuted re­ports of rifts within the PTI and announced that the party would be mov­ing the Supreme Court (SC) against the delay in general elections. Last month, the Senate passed a bill to amend the Paki­stan Army Act 1952. The bill was presented by outgoing Defence Minis­ter Khawaja Asif. The bill “Pakistan Army (Amend­ment) Act, 2023” says that those who disclose infor­mation against the inter­ests of the country or the army will be dealt with under the Official Secrets Act and the Army Act.

It proposes up to five years in jail for anyone who discloses sensitive infor­mation regarding security of the country or the army.

The bill proposes in­troducing Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the Army Act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of their “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, re­moval or dismissal from the service”.

The bill also proposes introducing Sections 55-A (conflict of interest), 55-B (electronic crimes) and 55-C (defamation).

Section 55-B says that any person who com­mits an offence under the Prevention of Electron­ic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016 “with the malafide inten­tion to undermine, ridicule, or scandalize the armed forces of Pakistan,” shall be punished in the man­ner prescribed in the Peca law. As per Section 55-C, a person subject to the Army Act, who “ridicules, scan­dalises, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part there­of in the estimation of oth­ers shall […] be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both.”

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