ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday passed the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 with majority votes as the bill sailed through the Senate a day ago after the coalition government of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) removed contentious clauses.
The Minister for Law and Justice, Azam Nazeer Tarar, re-tabled the bill in the National Assembly earlier after the legislation with controversial clauses already sailed through the lower house of parliament last week but failed to get Senate’s nod and was referred to the upper house’s standing committee after it drew strong criticism from lawmakers.
Subsequently, Senate on Sunday passed Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023 by a majority vote after the government made changes to the bill, removing a clause that sought to empower intelligence agencies to carry out raids or make arrests without warrants.
The law and justice minister, who tabled the bill in the Senate on behalf of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, told the house that the government has withdrawn the provision to empower intelligence agencies to carry out raids or make arrests without warrants.
“The two controversial clauses have been withdrawn which also include the arrest without warrant,” he added. He also emphasised that the revised legislation empowered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate individuals suspected of violating the Official Secrets Act.
He pointed out the word “knowingly” had been added to a clause which in its original form was “a person may be presumed to be in communication with an enemy or a foreign agent, if he has either within or outside Pakistan visited the address”.
The main objection, he further said, pertained to the power of the agencies to arrest without a warrant has been withdrawn, adding that certain words on which the members had raised objections were also removed.
However, he contended that the legislation should be seen without prejudice to give protection to the military personnel and intelligence agencies’ people offering sacrifices in the war zones.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, it is imperative to amend the Official Secrets Act 1923 and make it more effective in view of the changing social milieu to ensure the safety and security of official documents.
According to a new insertion 2(A) in Section 11 of the Official Secrets Act 1923, notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law for the time being in future, the intelligence agencies, may at any time, can enter and search a place or a person without warrant, and if necessary, by use of force and seize any document, sketch, plan, model, article, note, weapon, ammunition, electronic or modern device or anything of like nature, or anything which is or can be evidence of any offence committed, or suspecting of been committed under this Act.
Another insertion 12A says that under this Act, the investigation officer shall be an officer of the FIA not below the rank of BPS-17 or equivalent, and he shall be designated by the FIA director general. If the DG deems necessary, he may appoint a Joint Investigation Team consisting of officers of intelligence agencies as he may appoint.
The JIT, according to the bill, will complete its inquiry within 30 days. The case, if relates to civil espionage, will be investigated by the FIA or JIT.
However, according to an amendment in Clause b of Section 12, the punishment for an offence has been reduced from 14 to 10 years. The amendment clause says other than an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, shall be a cognisable and bailable offence.
The house also passed the Higher Education Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the National Commission for Minorities (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Price Control and Prevention of Profiteering and Hoarding (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation Conversion (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Federal Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2023.
The law minister said that with amendments in the Federal Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the tenures of FPSC chairman and its members have been increased to four to three years, respectively, which Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd) had reduced in 2006 through an ordinance.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023