ISLAMABAD: Besides providing legal cover to an indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, the Protection of Pakistan (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, has empowered the government to transfer any under-trial case to special courts to be set up under the new controversial law.

The new ordinance also allows special courts to hold in camera trial of an accused detained by security agencies. However, the special courts will be required to announce their verdicts in the presence of public.

An amendment to Section 9 of the PPO 2013 has authorised the government and the armed forces to withhold information about location of the detainee or the accused person and the detention centre.

Under the amended ordinance, the government is also not bound to disclose the reasons or the grounds for detaining any person.

The new section (IA) inserted in the ordinance says: “The government, joint investigation team and civil and armed forces may, in the interest of the security of its personnel or for the safety of the detainee or accused or intern, as the case may be, or for any other reasonable cause withhold the information regarding the location of the detainee or accused or intern or internment centre established or information with respect to any detainee or accused or intern or his whereabouts.”

Another new Section (IB) says: “Subject to the constitution, the government may not in the interest of Pakistan disclose the grounds for detention or divulge any information relating to a detainee, accused or interne who is an enemy alien or combatant enemy.”

The new law has defined “combatant enemy” as “any person who raises arms against Pakistan, its citizens, the armed forces or civil armed forces or aids or abets the raising of arms or waging of war against Pakistan or threatens the security and integrity of Pakistan or commits or threatens to commit any scheduled offence and includes a person who commits any act outside territory of Pakistan for which he has used the soil of Pakistan for preparing to commit an act that constitutes an offence under the laws of Pakistan and the laws of the state where such offence has been committed.”

Section 9A of the amended law says: “In addition, and without prejudice, to any powers which a special court may have by virtue of any law for the time being in force to order the exclusion of the public from any proceedings, if at any stage in the course of the trial of any person before a special court, an application is made by the prosecution on the ground that the publication of any evidence to be given or of any statement to be made in the course of the trial would be prejudicial to the public safety, and that, for the reason, all or any portion of the public should be excluded during any party of the hearing, the special court may make an order to that effect, but the passing of sentence shall in any case take place in public.”

“The special court may also deprive the offender of his citizenship.”

A new sub-section inserted in Section 16 states: “The government may apply to any court of law or tribunal that any case involving any scheduled offence punishable under this Ordinance, pending before such a court of tribunal is transferred to a special court.”

Under the new law, “it shall not be necessary for the special court to recall any witness or again record any evidence that may have been recorded.”

Amna Masood Janjua, the chairperson of the Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, in a statement termed the promulgation of new ordinance an attempt to gain time and delay the decision in the missing persons’ case by the Supreme Court.

“This ordinance has not only exposed the abilities of the official legal team but it also shows that the present government is not behind any other regime in appeasing the US,” she said.

She questioned the logic in giving more powers to intelligence agencies and police as they were already notorious for enforced disappearances, targeted killings and tortures.

President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Kamran Murtaza expressed serious “reservations” over the government’s move to amend the already controversial PPO through a new ordinance.

He declared the new ordinance “unconstitutional” and against fundamental rights.

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