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Opposition has its say in amended terror law

March 13, 2013

-File Photo

ISLAMABAD: In the face of opposition filibuster, the government managed to get a new bill through the National Assembly on Wednesday, accepting almost all their amendments that may have weakened some provisions of what was promised to be more stringent law to curb terrorist violence.

Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek accepted about 15 amendments, including the omission of a couple of clauses, mostly coming from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), and a couple from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in the hope of a smooth sailing for what was originally a 25-clause Anti-Terrorism (Second Amendment) Bill, 2013 aimed to make perpetrators of various acts punishable under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.

Yet the PML-N legal expert, Zahid Hamid, wanted to speak on each of more than a dozen of his party’s amendments, prompting Speaker Fehmida Mirza to complain that he was “testing my patience” late in the day, just before she was to play host to house members at a farewell dinner ahead of the expiry of their five-year term.

But then jumped in opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in one of his rare appearances in the current session, to voice his wonder why the government was rushing with what he called controversial legislation and threatening that his party would block bills like the one aimed to give a one- time amnesty for not complying with tax laws.

The chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and religious affairs minister, Khursheed Ahmed Shah, countered by arguing that the opposition should be happy, rather than angry, with the government carrying out legislation to the last days of its term.

The law minister noted that the bill under discussion was no more controversial after he had accepted all opposition amendments, which Mr Hamid of the PML-N said sought to make the bill “more effective” while also addressing some fundamental concerns such as right to a fair trial and powers of superior courts to grant bail.

He noted the bill had been pending for about two years in the Senate, where it was first introduced by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, but could not pass through a house standing committee headed by a senator of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam for unexplained reasons, prompting frequent complaints from the minister.

And to become law, the bill must be passed by the Senate as well before the National Assembly stands automatically dissolved at the end of its term on March 16.

So many amendments to a bill that amended another parent law, came with such rapidity, and sometimes amid confusion, that it was hard for people in the galleries to immediately grasp their significance.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons noted that a “growing menace of terrorism and attacks on armed forces, civil armed forces, law enforcement agencies and government offices and installations have adversely affected the security situation” and said: “The extraordinary circumstances demand more stringent laws to curb the terrorist violence and to punish those found involved with a view to create adequate deterrence.”

The bill expands the definition of terrorism to acts like “intimidating and terrorising” the public, social sectors, and business community, attacking civilians, government officials, installations, security forces as well as government premises, schools hospitals, taking law into one’s own hands, award of punishment not recognised by law, and preaching one’s beliefs on unauthorised FM stations.

Earlier the house passed, for the second during this session, a government bill seeking the establishment of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto University in Islamabad, this time with some amendments made by the Senate last week.

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: A Dawn report on Wednesday incorrectly, though inadvertently, cited penalties like withholding promotions and increments as well as compulsory retirement or dismissal of staff among corporal punishment in schools and other institutions under private bill passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday. In fact, these penalties were proposed in the original draft of the bill moved by Dr Attiya Inayatullah of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, while the final draft, as passed, prescribed the punishment of imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of up to Rs50,000, or both, “in addition to any punishment arising out of hurt or injury caused by such corporal punishment under other applicable laws”.