Stringent terror detention law passed in Pakistan

Published January 23, 2014
Under the new law, suspects can be tried in “special courts” which are allowed to exclude the public from hearings and withhold details of proceedings. – File Photo
Under the new law, suspects can be tried in “special courts” which are allowed to exclude the public from hearings and withhold details of proceedings. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has passed a new law allowing its security forces to detain terror suspects for up to 90 days without disclosing their whereabouts or the allegations against them.

The measures came in an amendment to the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance 2013 signed by President Mamnoon Hussain and published on Wednesday.

Under the new law, suspects can be tried in “special courts” which are allowed to exclude the public from hearings and withhold details of proceedings.

Security forces have also been granted powers to open fire on anyone they see committing or “likely to commit” any of a list of terror-related offences.

The order comes as Pakistan grapples with a surge in militant violence, with at least 104 people killed in militant attacks in the past week, according to an AFP tally.

The ordinance says the government may “authorize the detention of a person for a period... that shall not exceed ninety days if in the opinion of the government such person is acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, security, defense of Pakistan”.

It also allows the government and armed forces to withhold details of where anyone detained under the order is being held.

Anyone facing charges under the ordinance must demonstrate his or her innocence to a court – reversing the usual legal burden of proof.

The law also applies to suspects already in custody.

This appears to be an attempt to give legal cover to the cases of so-called “missing persons,” suspects who disappear into custody of the security services with no information given to their relatives.

A campaign group formed by the relatives of the missing persons says as many as 2,000 people have disappeared from across the country, many from the restive southwestern province of Balochistan.

The Supreme Court has pursued Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies, which are often seen as untouchable, demanding they explain the fate of missing persons.

Itiaz Gul, a senior defence and security analyst and executive director at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), voiced concern about the measures.

“This ordinance is controversial because it has not been debated enough by the parliament and it is fraught with risks including serious implications for human rights,” he told AFP.

“The right to shoot in defense as well as on suspicion is considered as a blank cheque to security forces.”

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