Senate body asks govt not to use blacklist for travel ban

Updated January 23, 2019

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Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari categorically declares blacklist illegal. — File photo
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari categorically declares blacklist illegal. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: Members of a parliamentary committee from both the government and the opposition have termed the indiscriminate use of the blacklist — an Exit Control List-like record used to restrict movement of people — illegal and urged the Ministry of Interior not to invoke this list to restrict movement of citizens, especially politicians.

A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice presided over by its chairman Javed Abbasi on Tuesday sought a compliance report from the ministry in this regard.

Taking up the agenda item, “procedure for putting names on the blacklist”, Mr Abbasi pointed out some instances in which officials of the Federal Investiga­tion Agency (FIA) and the directorate of immigration had stopped some people from travelling abroad, citing inclusion of their names in the blacklist.

While senators from the opposition parties — Mian Raza Rabbani, Ghaus Mohammad Khan Niazi and Mr Abbasi — criticised the interior ministry for the indiscriminate use of the blacklist, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari categorically declared the blacklist illegal.

Human rights minister categorically declares blacklist illegal

“There is no room for such a list in a democratic regime,” she said, adding that she did not know about the blacklist and it came to her knowledge only when two lawmakers belonging to the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement had recently been stopped from travelling abroad because their names were included in the list.

Ms Mazari said the FIA had defended the blacklist and it was of the view that in order to take prompt action against suspicious people it put their names on this list so that they could not leave the country.

She said the law concerning the movement of people could be improved and regulations for putting the names on the ECL could be amended. But, she added, the indiscriminate use of the blacklist could not be allowed.

Passport and Immigration director general Ishrat Hussain said that under the Passport Manual 2006, names of certain people were included in the blacklist.

When the committee chairman asked Mr Hussain whether there was any legal backing for putting the names of people on the blacklist, he replied in the negative.

“When parliament does not allow you to restrict the movement of citizens in such a way then why do you stop them from travelling abroad on the pretext that their names are included in the blacklist?” asked Mr Abbasi.

Senator Niazi pointed out that Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz had recently been stopped by FIA officials deployed at the airport from travelling abroad by saying that his name was included in the blacklist.

Mr Hussain said that since Hamza Shahbaz was facing a reference of the National Accountability Bureau, his name had been included in the blacklist.

Senator Raza Rabbani said sarcastically that if the country’s law enforcement agencies were so efficient then why they allowed former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, who is an accused in a high treason case, to leave the country.

He said no charge could be so serious than that of high treason. It was very shameful that the country’s agencies could not stop a high treason accused from leaving the country, while they were ready to put the names of political workers facing minor charges on the blacklist, he added.

Senator Usman Kakar said he could not believe that a civilian institution put the names of people on the blacklist on its own, adding that it must do it on the directive of intelligence agencies.

Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah said the committee should ask the government to stop this practice forthwith and seek a compliance report.

Subsequently, committee chairman Abbasi issued a ruling, asking the government to submit a compliance report.

Supreme Judicial Council

The committee decided to refer a matter related to revamping the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to the Senate Committee of the Whole House after observing that the lawyers’ representatives had pointed out certain issues relating to accountability of the judges of superior courts.

When the committee took up the agenda item “details of the cases/references filed and disposed of by the SJC during last 10 years”, Law Secretary retired Justice Abdul Shakoor Paracha said the ministry had written letters to the Supreme Court and high courts and replies from them were awaited.

A member of the Pakistan Bar Council, Raheel Kamran Sheikh, told the committee that the SJC had been non-functional since 2016, claiming that some chief justices in the past used references for arm-twisting of high courts’ judges.

He termed it a direct threat to the independence of the judiciary and said that in the United Kingdom, the judiciary regularly briefed the country’s parliament on inquiries against judges.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019