NA takes up anti-terror financing bills today

Updated 13 Jul 2020

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Interior secretary to get powers to order detentions; PPP concerned over broad powers given to LEAs. — APP/File
Interior secretary to get powers to order detentions; PPP concerned over broad powers given to LEAs. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly is set to begin on Monday (today) a debate on the privatisation policy of the government besides taking up two crucial bills seeking amendments to the anti-terrorism act to fulfil international commitments and certain requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) when the lower house will resume its session after a two-day recess.

According to the 22-point agenda issued by the National Assembly Secretariat for the sitting, Minister for Interior retd Brig Ijaz Shah will move the two bills seeking amendments to sections 2, 6, 9A and 11O in the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 and insertion of a new section 11OOO in it before the house for passage.

Both the bills with the same title the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 were approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior in February.

Interior secretary to get powers to order detentions; PPP concerned over broad powers given to LEAs

Through one of the bills, the government has defined the term “economic terrorism” for the first time. The bill defines “economic terrorism” as ‘the transfer of money or funds from Pakistan to destinations abroad through any informal channel, including Hundi or Hawala, where the total amount transferred by any one agent, through a single or multiple transactions over a period of one month, is equal to or exceeds fifty million rupees (Rs50 million).”

The bills had been introduced by the government to meet certain requirements of the FATF and in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions No. 1267 and 1373.

On one of the bills seeking to enhance applicability of the ATA in cases of transfer of money through informal channels and giving broad powers to law enforcement personnel to keep the accused under detention for three months during the inquiry period and carry out search operation at suspected premises, two committee members belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — Abdul Qadir Patel and Agha Rafiullah — have submitted a dissenting note.

Through a bill, the government seeks to insert a new section 9A titled “Preventive detention for inquiry” in the ATA. The bill “empowers the federal and provincial authorities to detain the persons for inquiry as well as to review the applications of aggrieved person against the detention orders”.

It says: “(1) Any person against whom there are reasonable grounds of believing that he is connected with an offence under this Act may be detained for inquiry for a period not exceeding three months. (2) The detention under sub-section (1), may be authorised through a specific or general order passed by the secretary, Ministry of Interior or the Home Secretary of the province, or where the provisions of Section 4 have been invoked, the armed forces or civil armed forces, as the case may be, upon the recommendation of a committee to be notified by the secretary interior.”

This detention period can be extended for another three months subject to the provisions of Article 10 of the Constitution.

The bill says: “The inquiry may be conducted by a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police or through a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to be notified by the government comprising a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police and officers of other investigation agencies.

“The police officer or the JIT, as the case may be, shall have such powers as are given in section 5 of the Federal Investigation Agency Act, 1974 (VIII of 1975): Provided that where the detention order has been issued by the armed forces or civil armed forces under subsection (2), the inquiry shall be conducted by the JIT comprising members of armed forces or civil armed forces, as the case may be, intelligence agencies and other law enforcement agencies, including a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police.”

Another sub-section says: “The detenue shall be produced in camera before the presiding officer of the court or in his absence before the district and sessions judge or the magistrate appointed under the Shariah Nizam-i-Adl Regulation, 2009, as the case may be within twenty-four hours of his detention and before the presiding officer of the court if and when any extension in the period of detention is requested.”

According to the sub-section 6, “the police officer or JIT, as the case may be, conducting inquiry under sub-section (4) shall have all the powers relating to search or arrest of person and seizure of property and other relevant material connected with the commission of any offence and shall have all the powers which a police officer have in relation to the investigation of offences under this Act or Code or any other law for the time being in force.”

The aggrieved person, however, has been given the right to appeal “to the minister for interior in case he is detained by the order of the interior secretary” and to the interior secretary in case he is detained by the order of home secretary of a province.

In case the order has been issued by the interior secretary, then the committee under sub-section 2 will comprise the interior secretary himself as chairman and director general (DG) of the FIA, member customs, DG of the Airport Security Force, DG of the Anti-Narcotics Force and representatives of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau and (IB) Financial Monitoring Unit as members.

In case the order has been issued by the home secretary of a province, the committee will comprise home secretary concerned as chairman and additional inspector general police (special branch), zonal director of the FIA, collector customs (preventive), head of Counter-Terrorism Department, sector commander of the ISI and joint director of IB as members.

Dissenting notes

In their dissenting notes, the PPP members have expressed fear that “if the bill is passed in this shape, it will not be used in just manners and might be used for victimisation”.

The PPP members are of the view that the provision of this bill “shall only apply to those transactions, which are carried through any informal channel as the definition of ‘agent’ given in the bill gives a sense to ‘legalise’ informal channel of transfer of money, which include Hundi or Hawala.

“In the bill, it has not been mentioned that such transactions have either been used or supposed to be used in any activity of terrorism abroad”, they said.

The PPP members believe that absolute powers are being given to the federal interior secretary and the provincial home secretaries to detain anyone for 90 days, this is too longer period, whereas the maximum custody of a person in murder charges is 14 days.

“People in large have already witnessed unlawful custody of many under National Accountability Bureau,” they said. “This law requires that grounds of detention shall be provided to the detainee within 24 hours, and he shall be allowed to render services of lawyer forthwith. Furthermore, in the bill, timeframe to decide an appeal has not been specified, it should be specified.”

The bills have also suggested increase in the punishment, including the fine amount from existing Rs10 million to Rs25m, besides introduction of a jail sentence for 10 years for those found involved in terror financing through illegal money transfers.

The statement of objectives and reasons attached to the bill seeking amendments to sections 2 and 11O and insertion of new sub-section 11OOO states that “the ATA 1997... lacks certain provisions in relation to the implementation of UNSC Resolutions 1267 and 1373.”

Through Resolution 1,267, the member states of the UN implement the sanctions’ measures of assets freeze (targeted financial sanctions), arms embargo and travel ban on the entities and individuals who are designated on the sanctions list.

The Resolution 1,373 requires the member states to implement counter-terrorism measures, especially countering financing of terrorism through their domestic laws.

“The above obligation is implemented in Pakistan through the ATA 1997. The penalties already provided in the said act are not dissuasive for violations of assets’ seizure provision in section 11O and the provided amount of fine is insufficient,” concludes the statement.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2020