“The Protection of Pakistan Act should be scrapped” – Zohra Yusuf

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The controversial Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which had elicited an outcry from political parties and rights activists due to its draconian clauses and infringement of constitutional rights, saw the light of the day after an amended version was passed by the Senate on July 1, 2014 followed by the National Assembly on July 2, 2014.

This has been met with a mixed response. While some former opponents are content with the amendments, others suggest further amendments whereas some maintain there is no need for this law at all.

Bolo Bhi reached out to various legal experts and human rights activists to get their view on this piece of legislation and whether the amended version is any better than the original form. Read below what Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a writer on media and human rights issues, has to say about it.

Q. How different is the Pakistan Protection Act (PPA) from the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) when it was first tabled? Does the PPA address the concerns raised regarding the PPO?

A. The amendments proposed by the opposition that have been incorporated are as follows:

  • Detention period reduced to 60 days from 90
  • Appeals can be filed in high courts; earlier it was the Supreme Court only
  • Firing on suspects as a last resort
  • Detention places to be revealed to the courts

However, most of our concerns remain unaddressed. The PPO legalises violation of fundamental rights. It also legalises disappearances; law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) are not obliged to inform families of where the detenue is being held. However, they will have to confirm if the person is in their custody. We have seen that even without the PPO, intelligence and military authorities have ignored directives of the superior courts.

Q. The PPO was critiqued for its vague definitions. Are terms such as insurgents, cybercrimes etc clearer in the amended version?

A. Terminology remains vague and therefore there are more chances of abuse; however, attempts have been made to define an ‘enemy’ and an ‘alien.’

Q. Is the current iteration of the PPA in line with constitutionally protected rights & guarantees afforded to citizens of Pakistan?

 A. No. It bypasses provisions related to fundamental rights

Q. Does the PPA follow constitutionally proscribed due process standards vis a vis detention, warrant-less searches, burden of proof and evidence? Are they adequate?

A. No. The burden of proof is now on the accused (to prove innocence), contrary to principles of justice whereby an accused is presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty.

Q. Is there scope for misuse of this law, especially with regards to the powers conferred upon law-enforcement agencies?

A. Firstly, terminology and provisions are both vague and open to interpretation. For example, the police can easily claim that they shot to kill ‘as a last resort’. We already have over 350 cases of extra-judicial killings in Karachi this year alone (according to figures given by the police itself).

Q. What in your opinion still needs to change in this piece of legislation and what should be the way forward?

A. It should be scrapped. Pakistan already has enough laws to deal with terrorism. Focus should be on enforcement.

Relevant Posts:

From PPO to PPA – a Timeline

The Dreaded PPO – an Analysis

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based, APNS-awardwinning journalist. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi. She has a masters in English literature. She worked with Newsline from July 2007-January 2012 and taught literature to grades 9-12. She served as an amicus curiae in a case filed in the Lahore High Court in 2013, challenging the ban on YouTube, and is currently a petitioner on behalf of Bolo Bhi in a case filed in the Islamabad High Court challenging government's censorship on the Internet and the powers of the regulator. She can be found on Twitter: @FariehaAziz and reached via email: farieha@bolobhi.org

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