Senate greenlights bill seeking 5-year jail for army men leaking sensitive info

PPPs Raza Rabbani walks out in protest during a Senate session, on July 27, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/PTVParliament

ISLAMABAD: Seeking stern action against anyone who discloses sensitive information about the army or seeks to malign the armed forces, the Senate approved a bill to amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, on Thursday.

The bill titled “Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023″ and moved by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif states those who disclose information against the interests of the country or the Pakistan Army would be held accountable under the Official Secrets Act and the Army Act.

It further states that a person who discloses any sensitive information in the interest of national security — obtained in an official capacity — without prior permission of the army chief will be punishable by a jail term of up to five years.

“If any person, who is or has been subject to this Act, discloses or causes to be disclosed any information, acquired in an official capacity, which is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the Armed Forces of Pakistan, shall be guilty of an offence, and on conviction by the court constituted under this Act, be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years,” the bill reads.

However, the bill stated that a person disclosing such information with the permission of the army chief or an authorised officer would not be punished.

“Any disclosure made after seeking prior approval from the Chief of the Army Staff, or any officer duly empowered by him, in the manner prescribed, shall not be deemed as unauthorised disclosure,” it added.

Furthermore, it sought to bar persons subject to this act from engaging in political activity for two years from the date of their retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service, whereas those “employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached” to “sensitive” duties under the act will be barred from political activities for five years after they leave their posts.

“Whoever violates [these conditions] on conviction by the court constituted under this Act, be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term, which may extend to two years,” the bill stated.

Moreover, the bill states that action will be taken against those involved in defamation of the military and they will be punished under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (Act XL of 2016) or relevant electronic, digital and social media laws.

“A personnel who is or has been subject to this Act intentionally ridicules, scandalizes, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the Armed Forces of Pakistan or any part thereof in the estimation of others shall, on conviction by a court constituted under this Act, in the prescribed manner, be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both.”

Raza Rabbani lodges ‘protest’

Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Mian Raza Rabbani staged a walkout from the house, terming the approval of multiple bills in a day as “blind legislation”.

Rabbani said that the manner in which the bills were passed today is a “dark day” and added that these are very important bills but the members got these today.

Regarding the bill related to the Higher Education Commission (HEC), the PPP senator said it is illegal and its purpose is to roll back the 18th amendment; he said this bill had to be approved by the Council of Common Interest.

At this, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani said the HEC bill is not being presented today.

Later, Raza Rabbani announced to boycott the Senate session while other PPP lawmakers were present in the house.