March 16, 2013 - Comments Off on Fair Trial Bill: de-alienation of civil society
President Asif Ali Zardari signed the in to law the “Fair Trial Act 2012”, empowering the state to intercept private communications in order to track suspected terrorists in the country. This legislation was approved by National Assembly and went through the senate for approval in December 2012.
The civil society and human rights defenders of Pakistan have been continuously questioning this Act which legalizes the security agencies to collect evidence “by means of modern techniques and devices” like wire-tapping, intercepting emails and SMS text messages that will be accepted in a court in cases registered under five security-related laws. A major concern about this Fair Trial Act is a few of its ambiguous clauses which could be misused against the people of dissent or political and military opponents.
This bill has clauses like: It shall also apply to all transactions or communications originated or concluded within Pakistan or originated or concluded outside Pakistan by any person. [2.(1).(c)] & Any person liable for investigation under the provisions of this Act for a scheduled offence committed partly or fully outside Pakistan shall be dealt with according to the provisions of this Act in the same manner as if such an offence had been committed within Pakistan. [2.(2)] which makes everyone in the world coming inside the domain of suspicious terrorists, which is disturbing to say the least.
The controversies include the way it easily went through the system and kept getting approved which happens rarely in Pakistan. Every time before elections government tries to get as many bills as possible approved which has been a routine in past in the country. But when the bills like Fair Trial Act 2012 get hasty approvals, acts like Domestic Violence Law stay in pending for years. For the record, Domestic Violence Bill was proposed in 2009 but subsequently failed to pass in provincial assemblies except the Sindh Assembly which passed it on 8th March, 2012.
Whether any sections of civil society were included in the drafting and passage of Fair Trial Bill, has yet to be disclosed by the government. Under Article 19A, we demand the government to show the transparency process involved in the consultation process of Fair Trial Act which could be used by the intelligence agencies and powerful sections of the country to violate larger civil rights.
Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemns this gesture of de-alienating civil society groups by the leading political party of country which was democratically elected four years back. While the bill may help security agencies to catch terrorists, the clauses need to be more specific without hurting the privacy rights of citizens of Pakistan.