- Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 criminalizes disclosing intelligence details.
- Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 penalizes revealing security-related information.
- Amendments empower army chief and bar ex-servicemen from politics.
President Arif Alvi has stirred controversy by asserting that he did not sign the bills amending the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act into law. In a surprising statement on social media, he claimed to have “disagreed with these laws” and accused his staff of undermining his decisions.
Alvi expressed that he asked his staff to return the bills unsigned within the designated time to render them ineffective. However, he later discovered that his staff had disregarded his instructions. He sought forgiveness from those who would be affected by the situation.
While the President House has yet to release an official statement, reports indicate that Alvi had given his approval to the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023. This endorsement on Saturday elevated these bills to acts of Parliament.
The Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 includes a new provision criminalizing the unauthorized disclosure of intelligence agency members’ identities or informants’ details. The punishment could entail imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to Rs10 million.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 introduces amendments to the Army Act. It imposes a penalty of up to five years of rigorous imprisonment for revealing information prejudicial to Pakistan’s security or the armed forces.
One significant amendment empowers the army chief and prohibits ex-servicemen from participating in politics or ventures conflicting with the army’s interests. It also suggests penalties for defaming the army. The revised law restricts anyone subject to the army act from engaging in political activities for two years following their service’s termination.
President Alvi’s statement comes after PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was taken into custody under the Official Secrets Act. This followed the registration of an FIR against former foreign minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan regarding a missing diplomatic cable. The cable allegedly contained threats from the US to remove Khan from office.
Last week, President Alvi returned numerous bills for Parliament’s reconsideration. Passed towards the end of the PML-N-led government’s tenure, these bills await further deliberation after upcoming general elections determine the new National Assembly’s composition.