Secrets Act amendment bill referred to standing committee after strong opposition in Senate
By News Desk
August 2, 2023 06:13 PM
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani Wednesday referred the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023 to its relevant standing committee for debate in order to reach a consensual decision over the matter after fierce opposition from parliamentarians.
According to the Senate agenda for today, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan was to move the bill for passing. However, in his absence, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented the bill amid loud opposition from both sides of the aisle.
The outgoing government quietly got the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 passed by the National Assembly (NA) yesterday in a bid to grant blanket powers to intelligence agencies, which will be able to raid and detain any citizen, even under suspicion of them breaching the law.
The former ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement’s component party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the National Party opposed the bill in the Senate.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) senior leader and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Afnan Ullah Khan also voiced against the proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act 1923. The members were also demanding of the Senate chairman to reject the bill immediately.
The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that it is imperative to amend the Official Secrets Act 1923 and make it more effective in view of the changing social milieu to ensure the safety and security of official documents.
According to a new insertion 2(A) in Section 11 of the Official Secrets Act 1923, notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law for the time being in future, the intelligence agencies, may at any time, can enter and search a place or a person without warrant, and if necessary, by use of force and seize any document, sketch, plan, model, article, note, weapon, ammunition, electronic or modern device or anything of like nature, or anything which is or can be evidence of any offence committed, or suspecting of been committed under this Act.
Another insertion 12A says that under this Act, the investigation officer shall be an officer of the FIA not below the rank of BPS-17 or equivalent, and he shall be designated by the FIA director general. If the DG deems necessary, he may appoint a Joint Investigation Team consisting of officers of intelligence agencies as he may appoint.
The JIT, according to the bill, will complete its inquiry within 30 days. The case, if relates to civil espionage, will be investigated by the FIA or JIT.
However, according to an amendment in Clause b of Section 12, the punishment for an offence has been reduced from 14 to 10 years. The amendment clause says other than an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, shall be a cognisable and bailable offence.
Earlier, Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali protested the introduction and passage of the bill in haste on the same day even without provision of its copies to members. However, copies of the bill in the English language were distributed among the members immediately. Chitrali said that it was also a violation of the Constitution that copies of the bill in Urdu language were not distributed and the same has been happening for the last few day
Legislative process draws senators ire
Before the bill to amend the Official Secrets Act was presented, senators from both treasury and opposition benches strongly criticised the legislative process witnessed in the upper house of Parliament during the past week.
Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said the past week’s legislative process had turned the house into a “joke” globally and on social media and “we are ourselves violating our rules and regulations”.
Why a “floodgate of legislations” was opened in the government’s last days, he wondered.
Referring to various bills — including the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023, HEC Amendment Bill 2023 and Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 — he said these were “strategic” legislations that would have far-reaching effects on the country and history.
“The government, with few days left in its tenure, should not take up these bills,” he added.
The senator also mentioned that there was no proper opposition in the NA and it was logical to say that a bill should be passed by the Senate since it had been passed by the lower house of Parliament.
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani’s criticism was more strongly worded, who said “new traditions” were being laid down. He said he felt he was not in the Senate but a “princely state” where “I am blindfolded, handcuffed and I parrot whatever the ministers say or whatever comes after being passed by the cabinet”.
“My right as an individual member to move an amendment against a law according to my conscience and my dictate is being taken away from me for the last 10 days,” he added.
Echoing former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s words and actions at the UN Security Council where he tore up a resolution, Rabbani said he too was “wasting my time over here and I will tear up your bills”.
The veteran senator then ripped a copy of the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill amid the thumping of desks from some other members.
He said his rights as an individual parliamentarian were being “walled”, adding that his proposed amendments to the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill were not circulated.
The senators’ right to deliberate and vote on amendments should not be taken away, he said.
“Don’t take away this right. You are doing this today. Tomorrow, when your government will end and you will return to these back benches, what legacy will you bring?
“We are setting bad precedents … The matter here is not as much of the basic principle of amendments as much as it of the basic principle of the right of an individual parliamentarian,” Rabbani said.
“I leave it in your hands,” he concluded his speech, addressing the Senate chairperson.