ISLAMABAD - The lack of interest and reluctance of political parties, particularly the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), to own the much-needed Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2010, coupled with the reservations expressed by provincial police departments and the legal experts over the proposed bill continue to block the passage of the law that aims to deal with the militants and terrorists with an iron hand.
The draft bill has been lying with the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, which is headed by JUI-F Senator Talha Mahmood, for more than a year as he believes that several clauses of the proposed law are in violation of basic human rights. Pakistan Army and law enforcement agencies, which are fighting against militants and terrorists, have time and again expressed their serious concerns that the existing law is very weak as the criminals go free with no support from the law for the cases of state institutions.
JUI-F FEARS: A parliamentary source told Pakistan Today that being a religio-political entity, the JUI-F had its own stakes in the proposed legislation. “It fears losing its considerable vote bank amongst the sympathisers of the militants, particularly in the tribal belt of the country, if the proposed bill is passed in the committee headed by JUI-F’s Talha Mahmood,” the source said.
He said the JUI-F’s reluctance was understandable but the way other political parties were ignoring the bill was not. The JUI-F is considered to be close to militant organisations and the Taliban. “It is this factor because of which the committee chairman is using delay tactics for the simple reason that the bill should not get through the committee as long as the JUI-F heads it,” the source said.
HARDLY ANY PROGRESS: So far the committee chairman has held several meetings to discuss the draft bill but hardly any progress has been made in this regard because of a lack of interest on his part and lack of interest by the representatives of other parties, despite the fact that Interior Minister Rehman Malik has time and again express his concerns that the bill is stuck at a time when amendments in the anti-terrorism law are the need of the hour.
The bill, which proposes amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, seeks major punishments for the militants and terrorists and the meaning of the term “terrorism” has been widened to a great extent. The proposed legislation seeks the inclusion of intimidating and terrorising the public, social sector, business community and preparing or attacking the civilians, government officials, installations, security forces or law enforcement agencies, in the definition of “terrorism”.
Under the proposed law, “terrorism” would also include grievous damage to government premises, official installations, schools, hospitals, offices or any other property. An action shall fall within the meaning of terrorism if it involves taking the law in one’s own hands, award of any punishment by an organisation, individual or group whatsoever, not recognised by the law, with a view to coerce, intimidate or terrorise the public, individuals, groups, communities, government officials and institutions, including law enforcement agencies, beyond the purview of the law of the land. It includes acts of armed resistance by groups or individuals against law enforcement agencies, dissemination, preaching ideas, teachings and beliefs according to one’s own interpretation on FM stations without explicit approval of government or its departments concerned, in the definition of terrorism.
PROPOSED PUNISHMENT: An accused convicted for an offence under this act is punishable with imprisonment of 10 years or more, including the offences of kidnapping for ransom and hijacking shall be liable for forfeiture of property.
PROSCRIPTION: If any or all office-bearers, activists or associates of a proscribed organisation form a new organisation under a different name, upon suspicion about their involvement in similar activities, the said organisation shall also be deemed to be a proscribed organisation.
PROPOSED MEASURES AGAINST PROSCRIBED ORGANISATIONS: If the office-bearers, activists, members or the associates of a proscription organisation are found continuing the activities of the proscribed organisation, they shall not be issued any passport or allowed to travel abroad. No bank or financial institution or any other entity providing financial support shall provide any loan facility or financial support to such person or issue a credit card to such persons. The arms licences, if already issued, shall be deemed to have been cancelled. No fresh licences to such persons for any kind of weapon shall be issued.
PREVENTIVE DETENTION: Preventive detention of a concerned in any offence under this act, for a period not exceeding 90 days, shall not be challenged in any court. The detenue shall be produced in-camera before the presiding officer or the court or in his absence before the district and sessions judge or the magistrate appointed under the Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulations, 2009, within 24 hours.
PROHIBITION ON DISPOSAL OF PROPERTY: If during the course of investigation, the investigation team has sufficient evidence to believe that any property which is the subject matter of investigation or enquiry, is likely to be removed, transferred or otherwise disposed of before an order of the appropriate authority for its seizure is obtained, the enquiry team may, by order in writing, direct the owner not to remove or dispose of such property. Any contravention of this order would earn two years rigorous imprisonment or fine for the owner.
GLORIFICATION OF TERRORISTS: Under this act, a person commits an offence if he or she prints, publishes or disseminates any material, whether by audio or video cassettes or FM radio station or by written, photographic, electronic, digital, wall-chalking or any other method, which glorifies terrorists or terrorist activities.
NATIONAL SECURITY: The proposed legislation says that in the interest of national security or in the apprehension of any offence under this act, the federal government may authorise any person or persons to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system. During a war or hostilities against Pakistan by any foreign power or internal aggression or for the defense or security of Pakistan, the federal government shall have preference and priority in telecommunication system over any licensee. The report of the person appointed by the government for analysis of any intercepted material shall have the same legal effect as given to the report of the experts of different fields mentioned in the bill.
BAIL: No court shall grant bail to a person accused of an offence under this act, punishable with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment exceeding 10 years.
POWER TO CALL INFORMATION: The superintendent of police during the course of investigation or an equivalent officer of security forces operating in aid of civil power, may by order in writing call for information from any person for the purpose of satisfying himself whether there has been any contravention of the provisions of this act or any rule or order made therein. He may require any person to produce or deliver any document or item useful or relevant to the enquiry or investigation. He may also require any bank or financial institution, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, to provide any information relating to any person, including entries in bank’s book transactions. The officer may require information or obtain record of telephone and mobile phone data, e-mails, MMS, and CNIC or any other information suspected to be linked in any manner with commission of an offence under this act, from any service provider company.
TRIAL OF OFFENCES: All offences under this act shall be tried exclusively by the anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) established under this act, provided that the courts of Zila Qazi or Azafi Zila Qazi established under the Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, 2009 shall be deemed to be the court and shall try all cases so assigned to them by the administrative judge.
PRESUMPTION OF PROOF AGAINST ACCUSED: Any person having in possession any explosive substance with or without explosive device without lawful justification, shall be presumed, unless contrary is proved, that the explosive substance was for the purpose of terrorism. Any person who has been convicted for an offence punishable under this act, if having property or assets which are disproportionate to his known source of income, shall be presumed, unless contrary is proved, to have acquired said property and assets through terrorist activities and shall be liable to be forfeited.
CONDITIONAL ADMISSIBILITY OF CONFESSION: Confessional statement made before the district police officer (DPO) or equivalent officer including officer of security forces operating in aid of civil power in the military or security operational areas notified by the government under this act, involving attack on the members of armed forces, civil armed forces, law enforcement agencies, government installations, hotels or public property shall be admissible in evidence.
According to a high-level source in Punjab Police, the committee had sought the comments and proposals from the provincial police chiefs over the proposed legislation but the committee has hardly discussed their proposals in any of the meetings held so far.
SENATORS VOICE CONCERNS: Similarly, the committee also sought recommendations from the parliamentarians on the bill. According to Senator SM Zafar, he opposed the words “award of any punishment by an organisation, individual or group whatsoever” in the definition of “terrorism” as such a phrase would extend to the orders/decisions made by local jirgas, which have nothing to do with terrorism. He suggested substituting the phrase with “taking the law in own hands”. Former senator Chaudhry M Anwar Bhinder has opposed in-camera trial of the accused under act. He proposed that the spouse of the detenue be allowed to visit him or her at the detention centre at least once in 15 days. He also suggested substituting “glorifies” with “patronises” or “encourages”. However, neither the recommendations of the provincial police departments nor the parliamentarians have so far been taken up in the committee meetings.