Sweeping amendments in terrorism law approved by PM

Pakistan on 07 October 2013
Location : Islamabad, Pakistan | Source : The International News

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday gave approval to several sweeping amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, as recommended by a committee, to sternly deal with extortionists, target killers, kidnappers for ransom and members of mafias in Karachi.
“No deletions or additions were introduced to the proposed changes, and the amendments suggested by the committee were accepted,” a source told The News.The committee comprised Federal Minister Zahid Hamid, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed, Sindh Advocate General Khalid Javed Khan and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) representative Senator Dr Farogh Naseem.
The source said that a number of new Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) will be established in Karachi to quickly deal with hundreds of cases of heinous crimes registered during the ongoing targeted campaign.
He said that the present number of ATCs working in Karachi was much less than the actual requirement in view of hundreds of new cases, which have been lodged against criminals over the past one month.
The source said that it was decided to immediately accord final legal shape to these changes and present them in the next federal cabinet meeting. After that, he said, these amendments will be promulgated through a presidential ordinance. He said that since there was an across-the-board political consensus on making the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 stringent, there will be no problem in getting the changes approved from both houses of parliament.
The source quoted the prime minister as saying in the meeting that there should be complete fairness and transparency and only then the action against criminals will meet with success. “There should be no political victimisation.”
The proposed changes in the ATA empower officials of police, armed forces and civil armed forces to fire or order firing upon any person against whom they are authorised to use force. The previous ATA clause, 5(2)(i) allowed these officers to fire upon a person only when they were fired upon.
They are now permitted to resort to the extreme measure even without any firing by the concerned person. It shall be lawful for any such officer or any senior officer to fire, or order firing upon any person or persons against whom he is authorised to use force.
Another unique amendment specifies that the conviction of an accused shall be lawful solely on the basis of electronic or forensic evidence or such other evidence that may have become available because of modern devices or techniques, even if no corroborative testimony is on hand.
According to a rare but extremely important amendment, screens will be used during trial to shield witnesses, judges and prosecutors from public view. The trial may be held through video link or in jail premises. The provincial government shall take necessary steps to ensure that prisoners in jails do not have access to mobile phones.
The government, or where the amended ATA would be invoked, the armed forces or civil armed forces, for a period not exceeding three months and after recording reasons, will issue order for preventive detention of any person who has been concerned in any offence relating to the security or defence of Pakistan or any of its parts, or public order including target killing, kidnapping for ransom and extortion or the maintenance of supplies or services or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made or credible information has been received, or a reasonable suspicion exists of his having been so concerned for purpose of inquiry.
When the detention order has been issued by the armed forces or civil armed forces, the inquiry shall be conducted by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising members of armed forces or civil armed forces, intelligence agencies and other law enforcement agencies, including a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police (SP).
Where it appears to the government that it would be in the interest of justice or expedient for protection and safety of judges, witnesses and prosecutor it may apply to the high court chief justice for transfer of a case from an ATC in another province and for this purpose shall also seek concurrence of the high court chief justice of the other federating unit.
Similarly, the federal government may in the interests of justice and protection and safety of witnesses and investigations transfer the investigation of any case from one place to another in the same or another province.
The investigating officer (IO) or the agency to which the case is thus transferred may proceed from the stage the inquiry or investigation was left or may proceed with the case as if it had been organically entrusted to him or the agency.
Where any person has been arrested by the armed forces or civil armed forces, he shall be handed over to the IO of the police station designated for the purpose by the provincial government in each district. Where the case is not decided within 30 days, the matter shall be brought to the notice of the high court chief justice concerned for appropriate directions.The trial will proceed uninterrupted from day to day after the ATC has scrutinised the case file to identify the issues and directed the prosecution to complete all pre-trial formalities.

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