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.”