Law Ministry rebuts as President Alvi denies having signed two key laws

  • Says ‘staff undermined my will and command’ by giving ascent to Official Secrets, Army Act amend bills
  • Ministry asks President to ‘take responsibility for his own actions,’ citing Article 75 of Constitution
  • PPP, PML-N demand resignation of President after he denied singing bills

ISLAMABAD: What is being described as “surprising and unprecedented,” President Arif Alvi on Sunday denied having approved two crucial legislations – Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 – while the law ministry quickly rebuked his statement, asking him to “take responsibility for his own actions.”

A day earlier, it was reported that President Arif Alvi had signed the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 into law.

After the approval from the National Assembly, both the bills were presented in the Senate where treasury members criticized the bills, forcing the Senate chairman to refer the matter to the standing committee.

Later, some controversial clauses of the two bills were removed and the bills were re-presented in the Senate. After approval, they were sent to President Alvi for his signature.

So far, the President House has not released a statement.

Section 6-A of the secrets act creates a new offence of unauthorised disclosure of the identities of members of intelligence agencies, informants or sources. The offence would be punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to Rs10 million.

The Army Act paves the way for the punishment of up to five-year rigorous imprisonment to any person guilty of disclosing any information, acquired in an official capacity that is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the armed forces.

One of the amendments in the act accords more powers to the army chief and barred ex-servicemen from engaging in politics as well as taking up ventures, which could come into conflict with the army’s interest. It also proposed imprisonment for defamation of the army.

Taking to the social media platform X on Sunday, Presdient Alvi denied having approved the two laws.

“As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws,” he said.

“I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within the stipulated time to make them ineffective,” he added, “I confirmed from them many times whether they have been returned and was assured that they were. However, I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command”.

The president then went on to “ask forgiveness from those who will be affected” by the development.

Law Ministry responds to President Alvi’s tweet on key bills

Following President Dr Arif Alvi’s post, the Law Ministry quickly issued a statement, expressing “grave concern” over President Arif Alvi’s post and said he should “take responsibility for his own actions”.

In a press release, it said “as per Article 75 of the Constitution, when a bill is sent for assent, the president has two options: either give assent, or refer the matter to the parliament with specific observations”.

“Article 75 does not provide for any third option.”

It noted that in the instant matter, neither of the requirements were fulfilled. “Instead, the President purposely delayed the assent,” it alleged. “Returning the bills without any observations or assent is not provided for in the Constitution. Such a course of action is against the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” it added.

Returning the bills without any observations or assent is not provided for in the Constitution. Such a course of action is against the letter and spirit of the constitution.

“If the President had any observations, he could have returned the bills with his observations like he did in the recent and distant past. He could have also issued a press release to that effect.”

“It is a matter of concern that the President has chosen to discredit his own officials. The President should take responsibility for his own actions,” it concluded.

Official Secrets Act

According to the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, a person will be guilty of an offense if he intentionally creates a problem of public order or acts against the state.

In addition, if a person attacks or damages a prohibited place and the purpose of this is to directly or indirectly benefit the enemy, then it is also punishable.

Under the said amendment bill, the accused will be tried in a special court and a decision will be taken after completing the hearing within 30 days.

Army Act

The Army Act has provisions relating to the retirement of military personnel. According to this law, no military personnel will be able to participate in any political activity for two years after retirement, resignation or dismissal, while military personnel or officers performing duties related to the sensitive nature of duty shall not participate in political activities for five years after termination of service.

A retired army officer found guilty of violating the Army Act will be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to two years. Also, if any serving or retired army personnel scandalises or ridicules the army on digital or social media, he will be punished under the Electronic Crimes Act.

According to the said law, any serving or retired officer who causes defamation of the army or spreads hatred against it will be punished with imprisonment of two years and a fine under the Army Act.

Qureshi’s arrest, cypher controversy

The shocking revelation by President Alvi comes only a day after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from his residence in the federal capital in the cypher leak case under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

The FIA has launched a thorough probe into the alleged “disappearance” of the diplomatic cypher, booking former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi under the recently enacted Official Secrets Act.

The FIA’s Counter Terrorism Wing filed an FIR against the PTI chairman and the vice chairman on August 15. The sources said that the act of leaking sensitive content is a blatant violation of the Official Secrets Act. “The case will be pursued as the relevant sections of the Official Secrets Act,” they added.

PTI declares full support for President Alvi

Meanwhile, the PTI — President Dr Arif Alvi’s party – announced on X that it would take the matter to the Supreme Court.

It thanked the president for “rising above fears and taking a stand for the Constitution and law, the fundamental rights of citizens and the survival and security of democracy and the Parliament”.

The party also declared “complete support” for the president at national and judicial levels.

Meanwhile, PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan called for legal action against the president’s staff for “disobeying” his orders.

He also demanded that an inquiry be launched to ascertain “how and why the orders regarding such a sensitive issue were disobeyed”.

PPP, PML-N demand President Alvi’s resignation

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Sunday demanded resignation of President Dr Arif Alvi after the latter denied singing bills amending the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter), PML-N leader and former finance minister Ishaq Dar termed the president’s remarks “unbelievable” and urged him to resign on account of “having failed to run his office effectively”.

“Minimum morality warrants [President] Alvi to resign, having failed to run his office effectively, efficiently and as per Rules of Business,” the finance minister, whose government’s term came to an end earlier this month said.

“Official work is conducted on files and implementation ensured — such statements only indicate playing with the gallery. God help us!” the PML-N leader added.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui also demanded President Alvi to resign. “Alvi speak openly. If there was disagreement with the bills, why didn’t he register his objections?” he asked.

“What was the purpose of sending back the bill without a yes or no? Why did he remain silent for two days despite the news of the bills being signed coming in the media?” the senator asked.

“Now that he has spoken, the matter became more confusing. If his staff is not in his control, then he [Alvi] should resign and go home,” he added.

Meanwhile, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman – in a statement – said the Arif Alvi’s remarks raise questions about his ability to continue as the president.

“Is he trying to say that someone else signed the bills under from under his nose,” the PPP leader said, adding that if that’s the case, then the president should resign.

Moreover, Sherry Rehman said: “If your staff is not in your control then leave the presidential office,” adding that the president was no longer fit to continue in his constitutional position.

PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said in fewer than 100 words, the president has done “what no one could do in the last decade”.

Gazette notifications of Army Act, Secrets Law issued

Hours after President Arif Alvi denied singing two pivotal bills, the gazette notifications of Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, becoming law have been issued, ARY News reported on Sunday.

According to details, the gazette notifications – copies of which are available with ARY News – were dated August 18 (Friday).

The notification stated that the acts – forwarded by Majlis-e-Shoora [Parliament] – were “deemed to have been assented by President Dr Arif Alvi”.

The bills were published as laws in the Gazette of Pakistan and were dated August 18, 2023.

 

 

 

 

Saleem Jadoon
Saleem Jadoon
News Editor at Pakistan Today

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