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Pakistan

Bill to amend Secrets Act referred to Senate standing committee after opposition

  • The development comes a day after the bill sailed smoothly through National Assembly (NA)
Published August 2, 2023

A bill to amend the Official Secrets Act, 1923, was referred to the relevant standing committee of the Senate after it faced fierce opposition from both sides of the aisle when presented for approval in the upper house of Parliament on Wednesday, Aaj News reported.

The development comes a day after the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 smoothly sailed through the National Assembly (NA).

The bill aims to grant blanket powers to intelligence agencies, which will be able to raid and detain any citizen, even under suspicion of them breaching the law.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan was supposed to present the bill in the Senate as per the Senate agenda. However, in his absence, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented the bill amid loud opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Following that, Senate Chairperson Sadiq Sanjrani said the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 stood referred to the standing committee.

Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023

The proposed legislation introduces Section 6-A, addressing unauthorised identity disclosure. It postulates that anyone acting in a manner detrimental to public order, safety, national interests, or Pakistan’s defence, who intentionally reveals the identity of undisclosed intelligence agency members, informants, or their sources, is committing an offence.

It proposes imprisonment for a term of up to three years and a fine extending to Rs10 million.

The bill seeks to expand the definition of “enemy” in Section 8-A. Here, “enemy” is conceived as any individual or entity, whether inadvertently or deliberately, operating for or engaged with a foreign power, agent, non-state actor, organisation, association, or group whose actions demonstrate intent harmful to the interests and safety of Pakistan.

Moreover, the proposed bill aims to replace Section 9, dealing with attempts or incitement to offences. It posits that anyone who “incites, conspires, attempts, aids, or abets the commission of an offense would face the same penalty and be subject to prosecution as if they had committed the offense.”

It suggests adding Section 12-A (investigations) to the law. The proposed amendment states that an investigating officer under the act “shall be an officer of the Federal Investigating Agency” who would be designated by the FIA director general for investigation.

“If the FIA DG deems it suitable, he may constitute a Joint Investigation Team, convened by such officer and consisting of other such officers of intelligence agencies.”

It adds that FIA would have to complete the investigation of cases “triable by the court established” within 30 working days.

The bill also proposes including Section 12-B (admissibility of material collected), under which “all material collected during the course of inquiry or investigation, including electronic devices, data, information, documents, or such other material which facilitates the commission to any offence under this Act, shall be admissible”.

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