Critics of the military condemn the ‘pro-military’ legislation

In its last 30 days in office, Pakistan’s departing administration pushed through a slew of new laws. Fears of bad precedents being formed in the South Asian nation have been voiced by several lawmakers who say that some bills were passed without enough discussion and were frequently not even sent to parliamentary committees.

Laws that have stirred much debate

At least four bills that were ultimately signed into law were singled out for particular criticism.

Disclosure of classified material might result in a jail sentence of up to five years under the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act.

The Intelligence Community will have broad new authority under the Official Secrets Amendment Bill.

The E-Safety Bill and the Personal Data Protection Bill make it harder for media outlets to access tax and other comprehensive information about people, particularly government officials and politicians.

The National Assembly, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament, quickly and easily passed all of these bills.

For instance, the Senate has shown strong opposition to the Official Secrets Amendment Bill despite its passage in the lower chamber.

After being sent to a Senate committee to address the concerns of several senators and other stakeholders, the bill finally passed on Sunday.

Most significantly, a provision that would have allowed intelligence services to make warrantless arrests or conduct warrantless searches was removed.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent organization, has called the bill “a blatant attack on the fundamental rights of the people.”

Bulldozing through legislative procedure

Some MPs continue to believe the Bills were approved in an undemocratic form, even after the revisions.

For instance, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar does not support applying Pakistan’s Army Act to civilians.

Prosecutors in Pakistan’s military tribunals have begun hearing cases involving suspects in fatal protests and assaults on military facilities after the May 9 detention of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Dawar told DW, “We are opposed to the very essence of the Army Act that empowers the army to trial civilians,” adding that this law violates constitutional rules for a fair trial.

“Under the Army Act, the appellate authority is the army chief, and until he rejects an appeal of a convict, the affected person cannot approach a high court,” Dawar said.

Dawar also pointed out that none of the bills were given enough time for discussion before being rushed through, which is against democratic principles.

According to former member Bushra Gohar’s interview with DW, the administration rushed through the legislation, disregarding the rules of the legislature and the values of democracy in the process.

On August 9, the current administration led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will give over authority to a caretaker government. Sharif took office after parliament last year deposed Khan in a vote of no confidence. The transitional administration will then declare when elections will be held.

Following his removal from office, Khan has been very critical of Pakistan’s strong military. As a result, some analysts believe that Sharif’s administration, which is supported by the army, may utilize new legislation to prevent Khan from returning to power.

Controlling cybercrime with strict legislation

Concerns have been raised about two separate incidents that involve cybercrime and cyber security.

Karachi-based digital rights campaigner Farieha Aziz claims the Bills’ passage was cloaked in secrecy.

Aziz told DW that their drafts should have been made public and that the whole legislative process lacked openness.

There was insufficient time for meaningful discussion on the Bills in Parliament. They did talk to other people, but we never found out what they thought of our advice, she added.

Aziz is certain that the government is going to completely regulate social media.

Aziz said that legislation was enacted to regulate social media. What is uploaded and what the government wants taken down is now entirely up to the government.

Press independence

Because they and their colleagues had previously uncovered corruption scandals after getting information from government organizations via their sources, Pakistani journalists have voiced worries about press freedom in light of the modifications to cybercrime law.

Farzana Ali, a journalist based in Peshawar, told DW that the new laws would make it extremely difficult for media representatives to obtain information or documents, such as copies, from government departments, making it impossible for journalists to back claims of corruption or malpractice.

If government agencies are prohibited from disclosing material to journalists, then the Right to material Act is meaningless, as Ali put it.

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