The Senate approved a bill on Sunday to amend the century-old Official Secrets Act 1923, which had come under fierce criticism from both ruling allies and the opposition in recent days over a provision that sought to grant blanket powers to intelligence agencies to raid and detain a citizen on the basis of suspicion.
The bill has already been cleared by the National Assembly and was referred to the relevant standing committee of the Senate last time it was presented in the upper house of Parliament after resistance from both sides of the aisle.
Presenting the bill today on behalf of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said some changes had been made to the bill.
He said the government, after deliberation, decided to withdraw the clause seeking to empower intelligence agencies to arrest citizens without a warrant.
The minister then outlined several other changes to the legislation and requested that it be put into passage.
As the debate commenced on the bill in the House, Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said changes made to the legislation were minor in nature and its spirit was intact and same as before.
“If we pass this bill in its present state, the entire country would be converted into a cantonment … and the human rights and political and press freedom would be severely affected.
“If there is a term for legal martial law, it would come into force as a result of this legislation,” he warned.
Similarly, PPP’s Raza Rabbani pointed out that the text of the bill did not disclose the necessity for amending the Secrets Act.
Following that, as Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani moved to proceed further, Tarar interjected and requested that he be allowed to propose another amendment to the bill.
Irked by this, Sanjrani said he should have proposed the amendment in the standing committee.
However, Tarar was eventually allowed to present his amendment and the bill was subsequently passed sans voting, after taking sense of the house.
The law minister also presented a motion today to withdraw the Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill, 2023 from the legislative agenda.
The bill, earlier dropped by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, aimed at curbing violent extremism after fierce opposition from lawmakers, including those from the ruling coalition.
It 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.
Presenting the motion, Tarar said the fate of the bill would now be left to the newly-elected government.
Additional input from APP