“Authorities should give up efforts to legitimise disappearances” – I.A. Rehman

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 I.A. Rehman, human rights activist and a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 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 text as given in the original ordinance hasn’t been radically revised. A few of the concerns have been met. For instance, the period of detention on remand has been reduced from 90 to 60 days, though preventive detention for 90 days and more is allowed. Appeal from the special court’s decision now lies with the High Court instead of the Supreme Court. No police officer below BS 15 can order firing; the rules have to be placed before parliament and some sort of inquiry into death by firing has been proposed. But the final version does not meet our concerns regarding the possibility of abuse by targeting political dissidents, the retrospective application of the law to legitimise illegal detentions (especially in Balochistan), and legitimisation of safe house. The definition of ‘Enemy Alien’ was better in the Ordinance. A new section allows the government to add new offences to the schedule which violates the parliament’s authority.

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

A.  Insurgent and cyber crimes are not defined at all. The other definitions are vague and liable to subjective interpretation.

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

 A. By making detention beyond 90 days subject to judicial review under Article 10 of the constitution, an attempt has been made to stay within constitutional limits. However, the PPA impinges on the people’s basic rights and hence it is in violation of the basic law. An equally important issue is the open possibility of the abuse of the law in view of the situation not only in the conflict zone but also in Balochistan and Sindh. The proposals regarding enemy aliens seem to be in conflict with the international laws of war.

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. There are deviations from due process regarding searches, use of fire power, presumption of guilt – that the state has been justifying through special laws (Anti-Terrorism Act, for instance).

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

A. Great scope for misuse of law is there.

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

A. This legislation is not needed. Many of its objectives can be secured through the Anti-Terrorism Act. The authorities should give up efforts to legitimise disappearances and make a law to deal only with armed insurgents and a different law for alien combatants.

Related Posts:

Analysis: The Dreaded PPO 

Timeline: From PPO to PPA – its passage

Analysis: PPA – Ordinance to Act: Is There a Difference?

Interview: Zohra Yusuf

Bolo Bhi Resource Guide on the PPA

About The Author

Farieha Aziz

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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