Human rights activists are blasting a new bill in Pakistan backed by the president and prime minister that would deem suspected terrorists to be an enemies of the state, allowing law enforcement officials to perform searches without a warrant and strip anyone arrested of the right to bail.
Hundreds of cities and towns throughout Pakistan, especially in the Sindh region, have erupted in protest against the bill.
On October 20, 2013 Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain approved the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, as the bill is called, following advice from the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It will next be forwarded to the parliament for enactment. The bill, which has not been released in full to the public, is said to declare all peace-disrupting elements as enemies of the state, and states that security of life, property and dignified living of Pakistanis should be the prime goal for the state.
Earlier this month, the President had promulgated a number of amendments into the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, which proposed longer detention for suspects and accepted electronic evidences and trials by video links.
Pakistan's widely read English-language newspaper Dawn, quoting official sources, has voiced concerns about its potential human rights violations. Under the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, law enforcement authorities – including police, military and para-military forces, Pakistan rangers, Frontier Corp and Frontier Constabulary – would be able to enter and search any premises without warrant. The arrested suspects would not be entitled to bail. These forces, on suspicion, can confiscate property, arms, and other household goods without permission from any lawful authority. And anyone found guilty of resisting enforcement of law or legal process will spend 10 years behind bars.
Separate police stations would be designated for professional and expeditious investigations of specified crime. The cases would be prosecuted by federal prosecutors – a new force of prosecutors will be created, parallel to the existing prosecution branch. And special jails will be designated to detain hardened criminals. The government has been authorised to create a parallel judiciary through these ordinances. Anti-Terrorist Courts and special prosecutors for terrorist crimes are already in operation. However, through the ‘Pakistan Protection Ordinance', the government will make “special courts and special prosecutors” to protect the country.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has called the bill a “draconian law” that would provide legal cover to disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and unfair trial:
The ordinances are also against the Article 24, which guarantees the rights of property and denies the right of the government to confiscate any lawful property.
Article 10 of the constitution, providing safeguard to arrest and detention states:
- No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.
- Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before a magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest, excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the nearest magistrate, and no such person shall be detained in:custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.
In light of this, the government of Pakistan must withdraw the ordinances and bring the bills before the parliament for open debate. The government must respect the process of fair trial and rule of law rather than resorting to making draconian laws which curtail the fundamental and constitutional rights of the people. It must also understand that by making draconian laws terrorism cannot be overcome. Rather it will generate more terrorism in different forms. The ordinances are not lawful.
A lawyer, Saleemullah Khan Advocate, who is also a retired inspector general of the police, has challenged the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), saying some of its sections are against the fundamental rights of the citizens as enshrined in the constitution.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the ruling party wants all political parties to vote in favour of the Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2013 when it is tabled in parliament for approval. The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party has made its intentions clear. Senator Raza Rabbani has said:
PPP would oppose it when the government brought it to parliament in the form of a bill. the ordinance in its present form was unacceptable as it was against people’s fundamental rights.
Sindh and Baloch regions are concerned about the bill because there have been separatist movements going on in these regions, especially in Balochistan.
Nationalist organisation of Sindh Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) show their grave concern over the new ordinance, calling it a conspiracy to conduct genocide of Sindhi and Baloch people.
On October 29, a large advertisement was published in major Sindhi newspapers, in which JSMM chairman Shafi Burfat said [Sindhi Language]:
Recently, the state introduced the “Pakistan Protection Ordinance”, and the Sindhi nation considers it as death warrant of innocent, suppressed Sindhi and Baloch nations. It’s a plan for the mass genocide of both nations. Through these laws, this state conspires to silence the political say of the national struggles of Sindh and Balochistan. We consider these laws to be a political assault and an encroachment on oppressed Sindhi and Baloch nations. The Sindhi nation and JSMM announce a shutter-down and wheel jam strike (no vehicle will move and no shop will be opened) against these anti-Sindh laws on October 30 across Sindh.
On October 30, some parts of Sindh observed a general strike on the call of JSMM against the Pakistan Protection Ordinance. The strike paralysed routine life in many towns of Sindh, government offices, private schools, and some business were closed. JSMM officials said that least 102 people associated with the group have been arrested in different towns of Sindh, more than 12 went missing during the strike. BBC-Urdu marked [ur] this strike as the first political reaction against the bill. More than 140 cities and towns observed strike against the new ordinance, local website Indus Tribune reported.
Freelance journalist Saba Imtiaz wrote on her blog:
Imagine the scenario: Security officials enter your home, arrest you without a warrant, search your property, keep you in detention, the trial is held in a different place from where you lived and you are considered guilty of waging war until you can prove you are innocent. This may be the worst-case scenario. Or there could be worse. You may never get a chance to prove you are innocent because the security officials may have used force against you already.
On Twitter, Sherry Rehman (@sherryrehman
), a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said:
The “Pakistan Protection Ordinance” is an outrage. It cannot remove right for arrest warrants, everything. Worse than the Patriot Act.WakeUp
— sherryrehman (@sherryrehman) October 24, 2013
Is Pakistan protection ordinance protect to innocent /common people or against ? Let see and observe
— Heer Soho (@HeerSoho) October 30, 2013
JSMM chairman Shafi Burfat (@ShafiBurfat) called this law a sin against Sindhi people:
This so-called state has raised these laws (PPO) against Sindhis on account of their crime for the claim of historical Heir-ship of #Sindh.
— Shafi Burfat (@shafiburfat) November 1, 2013
News anchor, journalist and blogger Shoukat Zardari (@ShoukatZardari) criticized:
— ShoukatZardari (@ShoukatZardari) October 29, 2013
Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N)'s Mian Javed Latif pushed back:
— CNBC Pakistan (@CNBCPAKISTAN) October 30, 2013