ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Interior approved on Tuesday the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) bill.
A meeting of the committee, presided over by its chairman Rana Shamin Ahmed, approved the bill with majority votes. Some of the members gave dissenting notes, saying the bill, presented by the government to enable it to effectively tackle the issue of terrorism, could be misused against innocent people and political parties.
The ordinance empowers police and security agencies to arrest anybody on the basis of ‘credible’ information that he/she is involved in anti-state activities, terrorism and treason. However, the term ‘credible information’ has not been defined in the bill.
The PPO allows anybody to file an appeal in the Supreme Court within 15 days of his arrest. But some members insisted that the period should be extended to 40 days and that appeals should be entertained also in lower and high courts because majority of applicants might not be able bear the cost of a trial in the apex court.
It was apparent that PML-N legislators, who are in majority in the committee, were in hurry to approve the bill. The MNAs of opposition parties who offered dissenting views included Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Nabeel Gabol and Syed Asif Hasnain of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
“I received a threatening SMS which said that if I did not give assent to the ordinance today I would face the music,” Nabeel Gabol told reporters after the session.
Addressing PML-N members of the committee, he said: “You (the ruling party) will soon be out of government and this law will be misused against you.”
Before the bill was approved by the committee, ruling party’s MNA Tehmina Daultana blamed members from the opposition parties for delaying the process of its approval.
She was supported by Minister of State Baleeghur Rehman who said the country was in flames and it was the need of the hour to enforce PPO to stop terrorism and killing of innocent people.
The chairman of the committee conducted the session in a sagacious way and gave appropriate time to the opposition members to present their arguments. He was ready to call even another meeting on the desire of opposition members but a majority of members hailing from the PML-N insisted on voting.
The PPO protects victims of terrorism, assault, kidnapping for ransom, personnel of armed forces and law enforcement agencies, parliamentarians, media persons, members of judiciary and executives, important personalities, foreign officials and visitors, official guests, tourists, internationally protected persons, social welfare workers, health personnel, aid workers and volunteers but it does not provide protection to witnesses in terrorism cases.
Because of insecurity felt by witnesses to incidents of terrorism, they are often reluctant to record their statements and identify culprits as a result terrorists succeed in getting relief from courts.
The proposed law will be applied also in the case of destruction of and attack on communication lines, devices, grids, power stations and generating and distribution systems, pylons, dams, gas or oil pipelines, liquid or natural gas facilities, tankers carrying the two commodities, aircraft, airports, flight crew and passengers, national defence materials, premises and installations, check-posts, prisons, mass transport systems, buses, cars, ports, maritime navigation equipments and platforms, shipping and port installations and other maritime fixtures, nuclear arms, sites and relates fixtures; conspiring or abetting a conspiracy against the country, hostage taking or attempting to take hostage any person and violence against Pakistani citizens occurring outside the country.
Some members expressed the fear that after enforcement of the PPO, no one would be allowed to hold protest and any violent protest against electricity and gas shortage would be dealt under the law.
The proposed law will come into action also on violation of sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) related to offences against the state, including waging or attempting to wage or abetting waging of war against the country, conspiracy to wage war, collecting arms, etc., with intention of waging such a war, condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty, defiling or removing national flag from government building, assaulting president, governor, etc.,…waging war against any power allied with the country, committing depredation on territories of powers at peace with the country, receiving property taken by war or such depredation, a government official’s voluntarily allowing a prisoner of state or war to escape, aiding escape of or harbouring such prisoners, abetting mutiny or trying to persuade a soldier, sailor or airman to remain absent from his duty, abetting an assault by a soldier, sailor or airman on his superior officer, abetting an act of insubordination by a soldier, sailor or airman, abetting desertion of a soldier, sailor or airman, harbouring a deserter or a deserter concealed on board a merchant vessel due to negligence of its master, wearing garb of or carrying a token used by a soldier, sailor or airman and violation of certain laws of army, air force and navy.
Warning before use of force
A section of the bill says that a police officer or member of the armed or civil armed forces, on reasonable apprehension of commission of a scheduled offence and after giving sufficient warning, may use necessary force to prevent the commission of the offence. On doing so, an officer of the armed forces or civil armed forces will exercise the powers of a police officer under the PPC.
Powers of arrest
The proposed law empowers police and armed forces to arrest any one on the basis of ‘credible information’. The concerned section of the ordinance says: “Any police officer, a member of the armed forces or civil armed forces acting in aid of civil authority may arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a scheduled offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion or ‘credible information’ exists that he has committed, or is about to commit any such act or offence; and any such officer may enter and search, without warrant, any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, fire-arm, weapon or article used, or likely to be used, in the commission of any scheduled offence.”
Arif Alvi said the term ‘credible information’ must be defined in the ordinance otherwise it would be misused.
On preventive detention of suspects., the bill says: “The government may by an order in writing issued by the secretary of ministry of interior, or any officer not below the rank of BPS-21, specifically designated in this behalf, authorise the preventive detention of a person for a period not exceeding ninety days if there are grounds to infer that such person is acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, security, defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, or external affairs of Pakistan, or public order or maintenance of supplies and services.”