NA passes Army Act amendment bill prosposing up to 5 years in jail for disclosing ‘sensitive information’

Published July 31, 2023
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar addresses a National Assembly session on Monday. — Screengrab via PTV Parliament YouTube
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar addresses a National Assembly session on Monday. — Screengrab via PTV Parliament YouTube

The National Assembly passed a bill on Monday to amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, which proposes up to five years in jail for those who disclose sensitive information pertaining to the security of the country or the military.

The bill was passed by the Senate last week, and according to today’s agenda of the NA, it was scheduled to be presented by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif in the lower house of Parliament.

However, in his absence, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023 in the largely empty house.

Previously in the upper house of Parliament, senators had criticised the bill, and the PTI on Saturday decided to initiate a probe into the role of its senators in the passing of the legislation.

While tabling it today, Tarar clarified that none of the provisions of the amendment act would apply to civilians.

He further elaborated that a matter pertaining to military trials had been taken up by the Supreme Court and this legislation would not apply to those trials as well. “This will not be retrospective in nature.”

Changes to army act

The Pakistan Army (Amend­ment) Act, 2023 proposes adding Section 26-A to the act, under which “anyone who discloses or causes to be disclosed any information…shall be […] punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years”. In case, the disclosure is approved by the army chief, it will not be considered a violation.

The bill also proposes introducing Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the army act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of their “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.

It further says those who “remained posted, employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached on sensitive duties” are forbidden from taking part in “political activity of any kind, during a period of five years from the date of his retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.

In case of violation, a court constituted under the army act can punish them with “rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years”.

Section 55-A forbids any person subject to the army act in the past five years from “directly or indirectly enter[ing] into employment, consultation or other engagement with an entity having a conflict of interest” with the activities of the army or its affiliates. However, the law does not apply to those who seek prior approval from the army chief. A person guilty of the said offence can be imprisoned for up to “two years with fine not exceeding Rs500,000 or with both”, the bill states.

Section 55-B states that any person, who is or has been subject to the army act, and commits an offence under the Peca 2016 “with the mala fide intention to undermine, ridicule, or scandalise the armed forces” shall be punished in the manner as prescribed in the Peca law.

Section 55-C states that a person who is or has been subject to the army act, “intentionally ridicules, scandalises, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part will be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both”.

A clause introduced to Section 176-C proposes that the army chief “may delegate any of his powers and functions conferred by, or delegated under this act, to any officer or authority subordinate to him”.

Meanwhile, the addition of Section 176-E proposes that the laws under the act “shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force”, adding that any such inconsistent law shall, “to the extent of any inconsistency, cease to have effect”.

Section 175-E of the legislation says that the army, upon direction from or with the concurrence of relevant authorities of the federal or provincial governments, may directly or indirectly carry out activities related to national development and advancement of national or strategic interests.

“Provided that all such activities already undertaken shall be deemed and always to have done under this Act,” the clause says.

Other bills passed by NA

Besides the Army Act amendment bill, the NA passed six other bills today.

Three of these bills were approved after the passage of a motion to suspend the rules for immediate consideration of these legislative proposals.

The bills included the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill, 2023, National Commission for Human Development (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

Later, Tarar also moved the Defence Housing Authority Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

State Minister for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan moved the Cantonments (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Board of Investment (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

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