Osama Bin Javaid's Blog

GUILTY – Until Proven Innocent in Pakistan

Posted in News, Pakistan Curent Affairs by osamabinjavaid on April 10, 2014

Pakistan’s government has passed the Protection of Pakistan bill into law refusing all suggested amendments by the opposition. Members of the national assembly boycotted proceedings as the government used its higher numbers to pass the bill. Some MPs tore copies of the bill, calling it a black law. Opposition members will be challenging the unconstitutional clauses of the law in court and build a public campaign against it.


Pakistan’s government is adamant to press ahead with a stricter new law which it says will help fight “terrorism” and criminal elements.
The proposed legislation, which treads the path of US’s homeland security act and other pieces of legislation, is raising unease among civil rights activists, who consider it a license to kill for Pakistan’s security forces.

Lawyers at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have studied the ordinance and are concerned about the implications of some of the provisions.
“The extension of detention period from 30 days to 90 days is unrealistic. HRCP considers even 30 days is too long,” the group’s said in a statement. “Law enforcement agencies have been given powers to fire on suspicion (earlier it was in self-defence). We have already witnessed trigger-happy Rangers in Karachi, it will only make matters worse. We believe it legitimises disappearances. While it requires the authorities to inform families of those in custody, they are not bound to reveal the location. Denial of bail is another major concern.”

Although it’s believed that the law was actually drafted by the prime minister’s office but most influential members of the ruling Muslim League Nawaz party are reluctant to speak on the subject of protection of Pakistan ordinance. “Many believe it is due to not just the harsh provisions but also because of wringing from agencies.” Arshad Sharif is a senior security and political analyst. “PMLN is acting as if it’s president passed the law on gunpoint. The controversial law is a difficult one for a politician to attach his or her name, so you can imagine why senior members are being elusive. They’ve made a mistake in succumbing to pressure by issuing the ordinance, now they are looking for an honourable exit from the fiasco so they can blame the opposition for burying the PPO”.

Some members of the ruling party have brushed aside the concerns of activists. “They’re making noise and it’s their right to have their opinions. PPO was needed and it’s the prerogative of the president to issue an ordinance. Due to the ongoing security situation in the country, we urgently needed a comprehensive law to empower security forces to deal with various challenges”.
Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani is part of the ruling PMLN government and a member of a parliamentary committee. Vankwani says the introduction of this law does give the security forces powers to arrest anyone but now they have to bring those arrests on record. “There is political consensus for peace in the county and for that PPO is necessary, it just shouldn’t be misused. There are proper checks and balances to ensure no excesses are committed against anyone”. 

But that’s precisely what analysts fear will happen. Mirza Shahzad Akbar, co-founder of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, interprets the provision as cover for using torture and other means to force confessions.“Agencies will torture you to make a statement and that will be treated as admissible piece of evidence in court. It further brings in reverse burden of proof, which means the arresting agency will only put an allegation on probabilities that you are a terrorist and you will have to prove that you are not,” says Akbar.
Pakistan is a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). But the proposed legislation makes any statements given to law enforcement agencies admissible in court.

Some activists also disagree with the special provisions of the ordinance granting powers to take away the citizenship of residents once they are proven guilty. Critics say the language is vague and builds the case with “reasonable evidence” and puts the onus on the accused to prove themselves innocent.

The law seems to clash with the independence of judiciary. Under this ordinance, the executive will appoint fresh judges of their own choice which means the government can hand pick judges to protect its interests rather than them being independent adjudicators.

In February the lower house temporarily extended the ordinance despite protests from opposition parties. “Ordinances – we have always opposed them,” says Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “All bills should be placed before parliament which can be summoned if emergency legislation is needed.”

Legal experts believe he law could create a parallel judiciary in the guise of trying to quickly settle  cases.
“Nationalists [including separatists in Balochistan, Sindh, FATA and some areas of Punjab] are worried because they are the ‘usual suspects’ for Pakistan’s military, paramilitary and intelligence agencies. Because they demand rights based on their regional/ethnic interests, the Pakistani establishment sees them as ‘traitors’” says Zohra.

But Vankwani disagrees “Before the PPO security forces had no right to arrest or take custody, now all arrests will be in the knowledge of the government and address issues like that of missing people.”

New laws needed?

Opposition lawmakers say tough laws already exist to tackle political violence. Pakistan’s government needs to focus on implementing and improving existing laws, they say, rather than distracting itself by creating new ones. Many argue that current political and religious violence is due to the failure of basic policing and governance issues which cannot be fixed with more pieces of legislation.

Activists say they can understand the government’s desperation in confronting militancy but don’t agree with the proposed solutions.

Last month, Pakistan drew up its first ever National Security Policy. The government says it means business when it comes to reshaping the security environment in a decade old conflict which has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

 “There is no doubt that the government would want and actually does want to work on securing Pakistan but the approach doesn’t seem to be right. With laws like PPO the risk of creating more dissent is far greater than actually solving any issue.” says Akbar.
A senior government advisor likened the PPO to the US Patriot Act, an imposing law passed over a decade ago. 

Members of the PMLN say the law is meant to provide checks and balance on the activities of security forces. Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani says it is still being deliberated in the lower house. “By that time if talks with Taliban are successful, the law and order situation improves there might not be the need for this legislation and the government can pull the ordinance or law”

Rafia Zakaria is on the board of directors of Amnesty International. She disagrees with the direction taken by Pakistan’s government. “In a general sense the law represents the legacy of the war on terror… Reduction of rights for defendants, longer periods of detention without charges and the suspension of procedural safeguards,” she said.  “It also creates disproportionate criminalisation of impoverished communities with the poor, ethnic and religious minorities bearing the brunt of their burden.”

This is not the first time Pakistan’s government has tried to pass controversial security legislation.

In 2011, a presidential decree (which was later made into law) issued two similarly regulations to provide legal cover to the armed forces’ actions during the military operations in the tribal areas called the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011 for FATA and PATA.

Recently, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered a meeting between a man booked under these laws and his family. Tasif (alias Danish) was picked up two years ago and his father-in-law says he seems to have been badly tortured during his incarceration. The security forces had been denying custody of Tasif when he went missing. Then he suddenly appeared in detention.

“What kind of fraud are you committing with the people?” a judge said to the Additional Attorney General representing government agents. “For the last two years we kept on asking about him and you kept denying you knew. What will the people think? Are our intelligence agencies always lying? What kind of country is this?”

Human Rights campaigners believe that toughening of laws is not a solution. There are enough terror-related laws as well as anti-terrorist courts. The main issues are of enforcement and prosecution. The evidence against those charged with terrorism is usually so poor that over 60 percent are acquitted by the courts 

Vankwani is confident that the PMLN government will not tolerate if random people are picked up by agencies but he feels that it’s worth facing opposition in giving a free hand to security forces to take action on targetable intelligence. “PPO is not meant to allow violation of human rights but to improve the current situation and an attempt to bring those (like the ones responsible for missing people) under a system of accountability.”

But those fighting to keep civil liberties say that concrete steps are needed to establish the writ of the state, until then, the crutches of ordinances to stumble clear of tough decisions will be ineffective in saving lives or providing any lasting solution.  

From AlJazeera Website