Senate chairman ‘drops’ violent extremism bill after fierce opposition

Published July 30, 2023
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani presides over today’s session. — DawnNewsTV
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani presides over today’s session. — DawnNewsTV

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Sunday “dropped” a bill aimed at curbing violent extremism after fierce opposition from lawmakers, including those from the ruling coalition.

According to the agenda for today’s session, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah was supposed to table the bill titled ‘The Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill 2023’. However, many parliamentarians, including those from the ruling coalition, opposed the bill.

The bill, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that those calling on others to show or use force, propagating and publishing extremist material, using all kinds of media for radicalisation or manipulating people’s beliefs, or provoking sectarian strife would be guilty of violent extremism.

PTI’s Mohammad Humayun Mohmand said that he did not know why the bill was being tabled on Sunday. “Is there an emergency in Pakistan that we come and do this on Sundays, on public holidays?”

He went on to say that if such legislation was passed by following the due procedure, then it would only add to its credibility. “If we do something in haste just because the government thinks little time remains, then haste makes waste,” he said.

Climate Minister Sherry Rehman tried defending the holding of today’s session and said that in the past sessions had been called on Sundays and Saturdays. She also commented on the statements by other parliamentarians questioning why the bills on the agenda were not being referred to the relevant committees.

“Perhaps, they don’t know that when the National Assembly (NA) completes its term, the bills that originate from there […] the rule is that they become infructuous the day the assembly’s term ends,” she said.

Sherry said that the Senate could also introduce amendments to bills after the assembly’s term ended. “No one likes hasty legislation,” she said.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui then said that as a member of the ruling party, there was perhaps a “compulsion” that they would vote for the bills, adding that they would do so.

At the same time, he said that several of the bills on today’s agenda were “important”. Talking about the prevention of violent extremism bill, he said that it covered “vast areas”.

He pointed out that the bill had 33 articles and 100 sub-clauses, adding that these were applicable to all, including politicians and the common man.

Siddiqui pointed out that the bill did not come from the NA and had come directly to the Senate. “After coming to us directly, it is our responsibility to thoroughly look at it before sending it to the NA. We agree with its aims and objectives but we fear that if this bill is approved as it is without going to the committee […] then it may perhaps be difficult to escape its clutches in the future,” he said.

Subsequently, Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan tabled the bill on behalf of the interior minister.

“Is it opposed?” asked Chairman Sanjrani, to which senators said it was. “Should I send it to the committee or take it to passage?” he then asked.

PTI’s Mohmand then said that this was an important bill that would have an effect on people’s lives. “But when I was perusing the bill, it seemed as if Rana Sanaullah [named] the bill to prevent violent extremism but maybe he wanted to prevent PTI from taking part in the next elections.”

He said that each clause “reeked” of targeting the PTI. He pointed out that members of the coalition were also opposing the bill and urged the Senate chairman to send it to the relevant committee as the bill would have “far-reaching effects”.

“If you want to do this then it is better to impose martial law or partial law. Why are we sitting here in Parliament?” he said.

Senator Kamran Murtaza of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) then said that any such legislation required taking allied parties into confidence. “You are cutting off your own hands with this legislation. You don’t realise it […] but where fundamental rights are being curtailed and you want to do legislation in this manner, in this haste and during the holidays, then I — as a coalition senator — voice my opposition.”

He said that the bill would become a problem down the line for all. “So please don’t do this kind of legislation which is offending the articles of the Constitution,” he said.

National Party (NP) Senator Tahir Bizenjo said that unfortunately two political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, were making all the decisions. He took issue with the PML-N, saying that they had not taken anyone into confidence over the legislation carried out over its tenure.

He said that the current bill was an “open attack” on democracy, adding that he was “strongly opposing the bill”. “If it is tabled, we will stage a token walkout,” he said.

In his remarks, JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said that their coalition partners did not realise what would happen in the future. He also questioned the need for calling a session on Sunday and voiced the party’s opposition to the bill.

Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad said that he had submitted his amendments to the bill, which he thanked the Senate chairman for including. He said that the 24-page bill was not only against the PTI but against all political parties.

“This will prove to be the last nail in the coffin of democracy,” he said. “Non-elected forces want that democracy is laid to rest through Parliament,” he said as he opposed the bill.

He also expressed surprise at the fact that the government had not taken its allies into confidence over the bill. “Today you are [introducing] a bill to target a party. But tomorrow it will become a noose around PDM parties which is why I reject it.”

Senate Chairman Sanjrani then said that the bill was a “routine matter” and today’s session was called because it was decided in the business advisory that the days needed to be completed and three holidays would not be counted.

“I drop this bill, whether or not the government does,” he said.

Sanjrani later remarked that the bill had been “dropped” but would be taken up on the next working day. The session was later adjourned for 3pm on Wednesday (August 2).

‘Frightening bill’

Before the Senate session began, PTI’s Sania Nishtar questioned the implications of the bill.

“Wide discretion and sweeping indemnity for the government. No independence of review process. Curbs on individual freedoms. Offences are non-bailable, cognizable and non-compoundable,” she said.

“What are the implications for human rights, right to fair trial, freedom of expression and chador aur char diwari values?” she asked.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad said that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government was presenting a bill on violent extremism. “This is a frightening bill which will not end violent extremism but will instead increase it,” he said.

“Sections five and six of the bill are draconian. This is a bill for banning the PTI,” he said. He said that trying to eliminate a political leader or political party through such means was wrong.

He said that the government should send the bill to the committee and should not reduce Parliament to a “rubber stamp”.

The bill

The bill states that anyone found to be guilty of committing “violent extremism” may be listed in the Second Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA) or in the First Schedule in the case of an organisation.

The First and Second Schedules pertain to the proscription of organisations and persons found to be involved in terrorist activities, and those listed in them are to be kept under strict observation.

The bill defines that a person would be guilty of “violent extremism” if he “supports, encourages, promotes, instigates, foments, advocates, justifies, commits or threatens to commit the show or use of force or violence or any hostile action, not permitted under the law, for resolution of any ideological belief, or any political, sectarian, social, racial, ethnic and religious issue”.

Detailing the measures that would be taken against any person listed in the Second Schedule, the bill states that the government could impose a restriction on the person’s “access, appearance or use of the print, electronic, or mass media, including social media and FM radio stations”.

It further states that the person’s “movement, visit, entry or transit to any public or private place or territory of Pakistan or abroad” could be restricted as well.

The bill goes on to add that the government may check or probe the person’s or their family members’ assets through a law enforcement agency, as well as “immediately freeze and seize” the assets, properties and bank accounts in the person’s name or “wherein he is a shareholder or beneficiary”.

“The listed persons may be barred to take part in elections at any level,” it adds.

Regarding listing organisations, the bill states that the assets of the entity’s leaders and office bearers would be probed while their activities would also be monitored. “The passport of the leader , office bearer, member, associate of employee shall be impounded and no travel document shall be issued to him and nor shall he be allowed to travel abroad,” the bill says. It also says that the arms licenses of the same would also be revoked.

It further says that all assets, properties and bank accounts in the name of the listed organisation shall be immediately frozen and seized.

The bill further states that no public servant shall involve themselves, their department or their family members in any activity related to violent extremism. If they do so, then in addition to departmental proceedings, they would also be punishable under the bill.

The bill states that all inquiries and investigations under the act will be conducted by the police or “such other body” as may be specified by the government.

The bill also details the punishment for violent extremism. “Any person who commits violent extremism shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years but shall not be less than three years and with a fine which may extend to Rs2 million but shall not be less than Rs500,000.

“Any person who violates any order issued under this act or amy other provisions of this act shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years but shall not be less than one year and with a fine which may extend to Rs1m but shall not be less than Rs500,000,” it says.

The bill further says that any organisation found involved in violent extremism may be fined up to Rs5m but not less than Rs500,000. “On conviction such an organisation, shall immediately stand dissolved or wound up, as the case may be, nothwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force,” the bill adds.

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