Pakistan to Give Military the Power to Detain With Impunity

Just days before it was dissolved, the Pakistani government proposed an amendment to a colonial-era secrets act that critics claim would allow the military intelligence agency to detain citizens with impunity.

Punjab Shehbaz SharifGovernment of the Pakistani Prime Minster Shabaz Sherif proposed an amendment to a colonial-era secrets act that critics claim would allow the military intelligence agency to detain citizens with impunity. (Photo: CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif, Flickr, License)Lawmakers passed several amendments, including this one, without even reading them and now it is up to the upper house, the Senate, to turn it into law or reject it.

The amendment broadly uses the word "enemy" to describe "any person directly or indirectly intentionally or unintentionally working for or engaged with a foreign power, foreign agent, non-state actor, organization, or a group guilty of a particular act tending to show a purpose that is prejudicial to the safety and interest of Pakistan."

Rights groups, activists, and lawyers believe that such a law will weaken democracy and human rights in Pakistan and set a dangerous precedent in the country's democratic history.

Ahmed Bilal Mehbob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, told OCCRP, that "these laws tell us about the kind of guided democracy system that is shaping up in Pakistan.

“It was already a hybrid system, but it will be more so after the passage of these laws. Democracy will apparently be further diluted, and dissent will come with a heavier price," he explained.

The current amendment is among several bills in the pipeline presented in the parliament by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's coalition government last week but not promulgated into law yet.

Sharif's government has granted more power to the military establishment of the country, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history since independence in 1947.

Osama Malik, a senior lawyer, told OCCRP that the lower house has failed its basic purpose of protecting liberties and freedoms.

It has instead cut down on these liberties. These amendments are against various provisions of the constitution, and the higher courts would do well to strike these down, on the basis of being unconstitutional, even if they are passed by the senate, he said.

"However, the Senate of Pakistan should stand up to protect the rights of the citizens. In a state where the military already enjoys excessive powers, it is unfortunate that elected politicians are giving more arbitrary powers to law enforcement agencies,” he said.

“These laws, if passed, will eventually be used against politicians who fall out of favor with the military as well as being used for a crackdown against human rights activists," added Malik.