Senate drops bill restricting ‘violent extremist’ persons, organisations
ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani Sunday decided to drop a bill seeking to “prevent” violent extremism and bar any organisation from contesting elections if they resort to extremism.
State Minister Shahadat Awan presented the bill, which was halted from further proceedings following opposition by senators, who believed it could have significant and far-reaching repercussions on political parties.
Consequently, the Senate chairman stated that the government could reconsider its stance on the bill, but he chose to drop it for the time being.
The decision came after not only the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senators but also members of the ruling coalition, including Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the Balochistan National Party, expressed their opposition to it.
The senators complained that such decisions are made at the behest of just two political parties — Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — without any consultations.
They also termed the bill “dangerous for democracy”, citing the reason for their opposition.
The main reason behind the bill’s oppostion, the senators said, was that it was being introduced to target a specific political party, but would also be weaponised against others in the future.
Senators said that such legislation would not be remembered well in history and damage democracy and democratic values in the country.
Senator Kamran Murtaza and Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (Fazl) announced their opposition against the bill one after another.
Hiaderi questioned the Senate chairman regarding the session being called on Sunday, adding if the approval of the bill was the motive. But Sanjrani said the day was already decided.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said the bill was aimed at defeating political parties and democracy. “This bill will be the last nail in democracy’s coffin.”
At the moment, the future of the bill is very distant. PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui, too, opposed the bill before it was presented in the upper house.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman indirectly favoured the bill, saying that it is not being passed in a rush and that it will be done so through the legal process.
She did, however, speak about sharing amendments to the bill.
Following the bill being dropped by the Senate chairman, it is seemingly impossible for the bill to be approved, and there is a possibility it won’t be presented again.
If the government plans to table it again, it will have to take the coalition leadership and parties in confidence.
Prevention of violent extremism bill
According to the draft bill, violent extremism refers to inciting, supporting, threatening, and resorting to violence and hostility due to political, religious, and sectarian as well as ideological beliefs, including financing and providing protection of a scheduled individual or organisation involved in violent extremism — all of which is prohibited by law.
“….the state is committed to further strengthen the legal mechanism to counter promotion and propagation of acts of violent extremism and provide for mechanism for de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of affected persons,” the draft bill, a copy of which is available with Thenews.com.pk, reads.
It is necessary to provide for a mechanism to prevent violent extremism and for matters connected therewith and ancillary thereto, it added.
Through this bill, a violent person, leader, official or worker of a violent organisation will be detained for 90 days to 12 months. However, they will have the right to appeal to the high court.
Following the bill’s approval, the government can add a person or organisation to lists 1 and 2 on violent extremism.
Meanwhile, violent organisations and persons on the lists will not be allowed to participate in the elections as a result of this bill. At the same time, no financial institution will provide financial support to its leader, member, or official.
As per the proposed draft bill, the act shall be called the Prevention of Violent Extremism Act, 2023; it will be applicable across Pakistan.
Those added to the first list of the bill will include an organisation involved in violent extremism and whose leader is violent or the organisations resurfaces with a changed name.
While those in the second list will comprise persons involved in violent extremism, is part of a violent organisation or its leader, or provide financial support to the violent organisation.
As per the draft bill, the government will restrict media access or publication of violent individuals and organisations.
The draft bill mentioned that there would be restrictions on a violent person or leader of a violent organisation. Apart from this, the government will also investigate the assets of the violent outfit.
The arms license of leaders, officials and members of the violent organisation will be revoked, as per the draft bill, while their assets, properties and bank accounts will be frozen. Meanwhile, their passports will be confiscated, and they will not be allowed to travel abroad.
On the other hand, the government will either direct the violent person to leave or stay in an area. It will also probe into the assets of the violent person, their family, siblings, and relatives.
The government may re-evaluate the removal of a violent organisation or institution from the list, depending on their behaviour. The affected organisation or individual shall file an application before the review committee within 30 days, but if the application is rejected, an appeal shall be filed in the high court.
The department concerned can, meanwhile, remove the person or organisation from the list at any time. After delisting, the activities of the violent individual or organisation as well as its leader, officials, and members, will be monitored for six months, with chances of the duration being extended.
The government will establish a de-radicalisation center for the rehabilitation and de-radicalisation of violent individuals. It will also establish a research center to counter violent extremism.
On the other hand, educational institutions will immediately report acts of violent extremism to the government and will not allow any person to engage in or promote violent extremism.
According to the bill’s draft, no public servant will allow themself or their family to be involved in violent extremism. Violent extremist content will be immediately removed or blocked from social media, it added.
The punishable offense shall be triable by the session court and will be non-bailable, cognisable, and non-compoundable.
The matter will be investigated and inquired by the police or any other department. A person guilty of violent extremism will be punished for three to 10 years and fined up to Rs2 million.
A person who violates this law will be imprisoned for one to five years and fined up to Rs1 million. An organisation involved in violent extremism will be fined Rs5 million, and it shall be dissolved as a result.
An organisation that violates the law will be fined up to Rs2 million, while the property and assets of the individual or organisation will be confiscated upon conviction.
A person found aiding or abetting or being complicit in violent extremism will also be liable to imprisonment for a term, which may extend to ten years, and fined Rs 2 million.
A person harbouring the one who commits an offense shall also be liable to imprisonment and a fine, while a person providing information or assistance to the government will be protected.