ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Tuesday passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 aimed at protecting court officials and witnesses, and providing them indemnity against prosecution in any other court of law.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif piloted the bill to further amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, in the Upper House, which was passed with a majority vote.
Senator Farhatullah Babar, however, called for wide circulation of the proposed Bill to gauge public opinion, but his suggestion was turned down by the government.
The PPP senator was of the view that the proposed Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 was inconsistent with the recent judgment of the Supreme Court on challenges to the 21st and the 18th constitutional amendments.
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Opposing the defence minister's motion to get the Bill passed, Babar said “the SC in its majority verdict of 13 to 4 had held that the Parliament could make constitutional amendments but such amendments were subject to judicial review”.
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The statement of objects and reasons of the Bill said: “An extraordinary situation and circumstances exist which demand special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism.”
“There exists a grave threat to the integrity of Pakistan owing to raising of arms and insurrection by terrorist groups," the Bill read.
Babar, however, said “the existing practice of military courts pronouncing death penalty against unnamed accused via unnamed judges sitting at an undisclosed location and without any mention of charges, the prosecution's case, the defence plea and without the presence of independent observers" was against the requirement of adequate procedural safeguards.
He called for soliciting public opinion from a wide spectrum of the society to address these concerns in the proposed Bill.
“The issue was not the setting up of military courts; rather the issue was the parameters within which these courts will be allowed to function,” said the PPP senator.
The move was however turned down when the Senate chairman put his motion to voice vote.
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Resolution passed to express solidarity with minorities
The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution expressing complete solidarity with religious minorities and vowing to protect their rights on the occasion of minorities' day.
The resolution was moved by Minister for Ports and Shipping Kamran Michael.
The resolution recalled the struggles and sacrifices of minorities during the Pakistan movement and in the face of challenges confronting the country.
Separately, Farhatullah Babar's move to refer the National University of Medical Sciences Bill to the relevant committee was endorsed by the house.
The defense minister wanted to get the Bill passed immediately in Tuesday's sitting but contrary to his desire, it was referred to the committee for discussion and analysis.