By Imran Mukhtar

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Inzuna) – Opposition parties in Pakistan’s Senate are opposing the controversial Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPB), despite the ruling party’s insistence that the country needs a strict anti-terrorism law in the wake of a volatile security situation and a zealous militancy that has shaken the very foundations of the state. The country suffered 41 suicide attacks and 22 drone strikes in 2013 killing over 800 people, according to Pakistan Body Count, a research website that tallies such attacks.

The PPB has been passed by the National Assembly as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the ruling party, enjoys a majority in the 342-member House. However, major opposition parties in the Senate, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), say that the bill contains many clauses that violate the human rights of citizens, and fear the law could be used for political retribution in the future.

“In its present form, the Protection of Pakistan Bill, 2014 is a recipe for legitimizing extra judicial killing as well as making citizens disappear without a trace,” said PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar in an interview with Inzuna.

“It seems to have been crafted by the security agencies which have come under increasing attack from the courts, the Parliament and civil society on the issue of enforced disappearance,” he said.

Babar stated that the bill empowers police to shoot and kill people based on “reasonable apprehension” but does not explain the parameters of that term.

Police will also be able to search any house without warrant and detain people for up to 90 days without disclosing who has been held, where, why, or when the individual will be tried, he explained.

Fundamentally, he stated that under section 14, the burden of proof is placed on the accused. It says that the accused “shall be presumed to be engaged in waging war or insurrection against Pakistan unless he establishes his non-involvement in the offence.”

“How it is fair that you detain a person and then say to prove himself innocent?” queried Senator Afrasiab Khattak, senior legislator of ANP, a party that has roots in the war-torn province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while talking with Inzuna.

“We are not among those people who are opponents of a terrorism law but there should be an effective law,” he said, pointing out that certain clauses of the law were in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan.

It makes statements before police as admissible evidence, Farhatullah Babar explained. As such he believes it will open the floodgates of torture at the hands of police.

Babar argued that it is a declaration of war against our international obligations under various UN Conventions signed by Pakistan like the Convention against Torture and the Convention for the Protection of Civil and Political Rights.

The bill is also proposed to apply retrospectively. In its Section 6, the bill stipulates that people who have already been arrested and detained before this law is instituted will be deemed to have been arrested and detained under it.

Section 15 empowers a Special Court to deprive a person of his Pakistani citizenship, Babar furthered. Adding that, any person without an identity card is liable to be declared an ‘enemy alien’ and thereby have no rights altogether.

”The absolute powers of law enforcers to shoot at sight, kidnap and dump bodies with impunity, break open into bedrooms without search warrants, and altering the paradigm from firing in self defense to firing at anyone, anytime, merely on the basis of suspicion have not been counterbalanced with even a semblance of checks,” he said.

Babar told Inzuna that his party proposes to amend the bill, “particularly in areas relating to the powers to shoot on mere suspicion, detention without disclosing necessary information, and open ended searches and arrests.”

The PPB began its life when the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO), 2013 was promulgated on October 20, 2013 by President Mamnoon Hussain. Another ordinance with the name Protection of Pakistan (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was enacted in January, 2014.

On May 14 of this year, the PPO was extended for another 120 days in the absence of a resolution concerning the PPB.

The PML-N maintains that the PPB does not violate the human rights of Pakistani citizens.

Follow Imran Mukhtar on Twitter at @imranmukhtar

Follow Inzuna on Twitter at @inzuna

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