Why is this bill being opposed?
The Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Bill 2023 was tabled in the Senate after the approval of the National Assembly on Wednesday, but on the protest of the members of the Upper House, the Chairman Senate tabled it on behalf of Prime Minister Nazir Tarar. Sent to the committee.
Earlier, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi presented the said bill in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
While presenting the bill in the National Assembly, it was stated that the amendment of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 is essential, this bill makes the process more effective in the context of changing social scenario to ensure protection and security of official documents.
But a review of the proposed law reveals that it is designed with the May 9 violence in mind. When PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested in a corruption case, riots broke out across the country.
However, the general view is that it cannot be used against those who attacked military installations on May 9, as the law will not be retroactive after it comes into effect.
The Official Secrets Act was enacted in 1923 during the British rule, aimed at cracking down on the disclosure of classified military information, and this bill proposes amendments to the same law.
What is the Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Bill?
According to the British news agency “BBC”, the bill proposes three years imprisonment and a fine of one million rupees for revealing the identity of sensitive institutions, informers and sources.
Section 6A (unauthorized disclosure of identity) of the bill states that it shall be an offense to disclose the identity of officials, informers or sources of intelligence agencies against the law and order, security, interest and defense of Pakistan.
Which country will be considered an enemy?
Section 8A of the Bill defines “enemy” as ‘any person who, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, an external force, agent, non-state actor, institution, association or group whose objective If you want to harm the interests and security of Pakistan, you work with him.
According to Section 9, those who abet, conspire or assist in the commission of the crime shall be treated as accomplices in the crime and shall be punished accordingly.
The disputed clause
However, a provision in the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill has been described as more controversial by observers.
The search warrant clause states that intelligence agencies “may, if necessary, search any person or place at any time without warrant” on suspicion of an offense or offence.
Powers of the FIA
The amendment bill also said that an officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) grade 17 or above would be nominated by the DGFIA for the investigation.
The DJFIA will have the power to set up a JIT comprising officials from the FIA and sensitive agencies for violations of the Official Secrets Act, but the FIA will have to complete the investigation within 30 days.
Seizure of evidence and equipment
According to the amendment bill, intelligence agencies (IB and ISI) will be empowered to seize any kind of documents, maps, models, articles, notes, weapons or electronic devices and arrest the accused on the basis of suspicion.
According to the bill, such electronic devices, data, information, documents or other materials obtained during the course of investigation and facilitating the commission of the crime, can be presented as evidence.
Access to sensitive areas
Section 3 is being renamed from “punishment for espionage” to “offences”.
With minor amendments to the existing offences, it has also added drone camera photography of restricted areas to the list of offences.
The Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill states that it would be a crime to advance towards, enter, or plan an attack on restricted areas, and would prohibit surveillance of restricted areas by “unmanned vehicles” or drones.
Under this, unauthorized access to any activity, document, invention or weapon etc. related to the capability of the forces would be illegal.
The Act has also been amended to include areas temporarily under the control of the armed forces for combat testing, training, research, movement of troops or in-camera meetings.
Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Bill 2023 Currently the offense is limited to such movements during wartime, but the proposed bill would extend it to peacetime.
Why oppose the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill?
According to the BBC, human rights activists and lawyers have opposed the Official Secrets Act amendment bill, calling it unconstitutional.
In the past, Colonel Retired Inamul Rahim, who was attached to the legal branch (Judge Advocate General Branch or Jag Branch) of the Pakistani Army, while speaking to BBC, termed this amendment bill as a violation of the Constitution.
He said that it is clearly written in the constitution that if someone has to be arrested, or a house has to be searched, it is necessary to have a search warrant.
Colonel Retired Inamul Rahim also criticized the members of parliament who approved the bill without reading it.
On the other hand, social activist Iman Mazari says that the purpose of the amendments in the Official Secrets Act is to give more powers to the intelligence agencies.
Speaking to the BBC, he said that under these amendments, the ISI and IB have been given wide-ranging powers.