After opposition, Senate drops bill seeking ban on violent outfits

ISLAMABAD   - The upper house of the parliament on Sunday ‘dropped’ a bill aimed at curbing violent and extremist organizations in the political arena after fierce opposition from the members.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani minister Rana Sanaullah was supposed to table the bill titled ‘The Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill 2023’. However, many parliamentarians, including those from the ruling coalition, fiercely opposed the bill.

The bill said those calling on others to show or use force, propagating and publishing extremist material, using all kinds of media for radicalisation or manipulating people’s beliefs, or provoking sectarian strife would be guilty of violent extremism. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senator Mohammad Humayun Mohmand said he did not know why the bill was being tabled on Sunday. “Is there an emergency in Pakistan that we come and do this on Sundays, on public holidays?”

He was of the view that if such legislation was passed by following the due procedure, then only it would add to its credibility. “If we do something in haste just because the government thinks little time is left, then haste makes waste,” he added.

Climate Minister Sherry Rehman defended the holding of Sunday’s session and explained to the parliamentarians objecting to the ‘haste’ by saying that “Perhaps, they don’t know that when the National Assembly completes its term, the bills that originate from there […] the rule is that they become infructuous the day the assembly’s term ends”.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui said as a member of the ruling party, he was under a “compulsion” to vote for the bills. Talking about the particular bill to curb ‘violent extremism’, he said that it covered “vast areas”. He pointed out that the bill had 33 articles and 100 sub-clauses, adding that these were applicable to all, including politicians and the common man.

Siddiqui said it is our responsibility to thoroughly look at it before sending it to the National Assembly. “We agree with its aims and objectives but we fear that if this bill is passed as it is, then it may perhaps be difficult to escape its clutches in the future”. Subsequently, Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan tabled the bill on behalf of the interior minister.

“Is it opposed?” asked Chairman Sanjrani, to which senators said yes. “Should I send it to the committee or take it to passage?” he then asked.

PTI’s Mohmand then said the bill would have an effect on people’s lives. “It seemed as if Rana Sanaullah wanted to prevent PTI from taking part in the next elections.” National Party (NP) Senator Tahir Bizenjo said that unfortunately two political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, were making all the decisions. He said the PML-N had not taken anyone into confidence over the legislation carried out over its tenure. He termed the bill an “open attack” on democracy, adding that he was “strongly opposing the bill”. “If it is tabled, we will stage a token walkout,” he said. In his remarks, JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said that their coalition partners did not realise what would happen in the future. He also questioned the need for calling a session on Sunday and voiced the party’s opposition to the bill. Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad said that the 24-page bill was not only against the PTI but against all political parties.

“This will prove to be the last nail in the coffin of democracy,” he said. “Non-elected forces want that democracy is laid to rest through Parliament,” he said as he opposed the bill.

Senate Chairman Sanjrani then said the bill was a “routine matter” and this session was called because it was decided in the business advisory that the days needed to be completed and three holidays would not be counted. “I drop this bill, whether or not the government does,” he said. Sanjrani later remarked that the bill had been “dropped” but would be taken up on the next working day. The session was later adjourned for 3pm on Wednesday (August 2).

The bill states that anyone found to be guilty of committing “violent extremism” may be listed in the Second Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA) or in the First Schedule in the case of an organisation.

The First and Second Schedules pertain to the proscription of organisations and persons found to be involved in terrorist activities, and those listed in them are to be kept under strict observation. The bill defines that a person would be guilty of “violent extremism” if he “supports, encourages, promotes, instigates, foments, advocates, justifies, commits or threatens to commit the show or use of force or violence or any hostile action, not permitted under the law, for resolution of any ideological belief, or any political, sectarian, social, racial, ethnic and religious issue”.

Detailing the measures that would be taken against any person listed in the Second Schedule, the bill states that the government could impose a restriction on the person’s “access, appearance or use of the print, electronic, or mass media, including social media and FM radio stations”.

It further states that the person’s “movement, visit, entry or transit to any public or private place or territory of Pakistan or abroad” could be restricted as well.

The bill goes on to add that the government may check or probe the person’s or their family members’ assets through a law enforcement agency, as well as “immediately freeze and seize” the assets, properties and bank accounts in the person’s name or “wherein he is a shareholder or beneficiary”.

“The listed persons may be barred to take part in elections at any level,” it adds.

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