NA passes bill seeking up to 3-year jail term for engaging in anti-state activities

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi. — APP
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi. — APP
  • Bill presented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi.
  • Proposes up to 3-year imprisonment, Rs1 million fine or both.
  • Bill aimed to ensure safety and security of official documents.

The National Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill to amend the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill 2023 proposing up to a three-year jail term for engaging in anti-state activities.

The bill, titled “Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023”, was presented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi. 

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.

The bill proposes the addition of Section 6A, according to which, a person “shall commit an offence who intentionally acting in any manner prejudicial to public order, safety, interests or defence of Pakistan, or any part thereof, discloses in such a manner that exposes the identity of such undisclosed persons in any manners the identity of the members of the intelligence agencies, or the informants or sources thereof”.

Those who commit an offence will face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine which may extend to Rs1 million or both. 

The bill also proposed an amendment to Section 3 which suggests that a person shall commit an offence under this section If he intentionally for any purpose prejudicial to public order, defence, safety or interests of the State: 

  • Approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the vicinity of, or enters, attacks, destroys or otherwise undermines any prohibited place;
  • Makes any sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy; 
  • Obtains, collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any electronic or modem device, sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information, in any manner whatsoever, which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy of the State; 
  • Gains unauthorised access to document or information from within or outside of Pakistan with or without use of electronic or modem devices;
  • Causes an unmanned vehicle or device to access, enter inspect pass over or under, approach or be in the vicinity of a prohibited place: 
  • Disclosure or retention of any activity, information, document, related to invention, research, development, production, maintenance, operation, storage and disposal of weapons, equipment or any capability of these forces, and access to or unauthorized disclosure of which is prejudicial to the safety and interest of Pakistan.” 

The bill also suggests inserting a new clause 8A, according to which, “any person who is directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally working for or engaged with the foreign power, foreign agent, Non-State Actor, organisation, entity, association or group guilty of a particular act tending to show a purpose that is prejudicial to the safety and interest of Pakistan”.

It also proposed substituting Section 9 (attempts or incitement to offences), by stating that anyone who “incites, conspires, attempts, aids or abets the commission of an offence would be punished with the same penalty and liable to be proceeded against in the same manner as if they had committed the offence”.

Another insertion of Section 12A said that “An investigating officer under this Act shall be an officer of the Federal Investigating Agency not below the rank of BPS-17 or equivalent.”

The said Officer shall be designated by the Director General, Federal Investigating Agency for the purposes of investigation. If the Director General, Federal Investigating Agency deems necessary, he may constitute a Joint Investigation Team, convene by such officer and consisting of such other officers of intelligence agencies as he may appoint. The Joint  Investigation Team may co-opt any additional person from any Federal or Provincial institution or department as it deems appropriate for investigation.”

It added that the FIA or JIT shall complete the investigation 30 working days. 

The bill also proposed including Section 12-B (admissibility of material collected) under which “all material collected during the course of inquiry or investigation, including electronic devices, data, information, documents, or such other material which facilitates the commission to any offence under this Act, shall be admissible”.

Other bills

Abbasi also moved the Toshakhana (Management and Regulation) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Airports Authority Bill, 2023. Both of them were passed by the House as the Senate has already approved both legislative proposals.

The Toshakhana Management and Regulation Bill 2023 envisaged that the existing and future gifts to be received in Toshakhana shall be disposed of through an open auction.

The proceeds of such an auction shall be kept in a separate account and will be utilized for promoting female primary education in the most backward areas of the country.

Three private members’ bills passed by the House included the Promotion and Protection of Gandhara Culture Authority Bill, 2023; the Margalla International University Bill, 2023 and the Thar International Institute Bill, 2023. 

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