Close on the heels of amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, the President has passed a new Protection of Pakistan ordinance, 2013, with enhanced powers to security forces to take action, stringent punishments and special courts at the federal-level with a provision to detain suspects for three months at the minimum.

A government background note said that about 40, 000 lives have been lost in terrorism, which inflicted a monetary damage of over US$ 100 billion in the country. Borrowing from similar laws around the world, including the Homeland Security Act in the US and the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act in India, against which there have been many protests, the new ordinance has a slew of provisions with high security prisons, separate police stations for specified crimes with federal prosecutors to argue cases in special federal courts, preventive detentions and enhanced punishments. Such offences as designated under the law will be cognisable and non-bailable. It has a provision to conduct trials out of the jurisdiction of where the crimes were committed. Now the minimum quantum of punishment is set at ten years.

The ordinance also targets “millions of non-Pakistanis” living in the country “for any reason, including distressful conditions in their parent country, especially those since 1979,” and they “shall not be allowed to abuse the temporary liberty to commit depredation.”

It defines an “enemy alien” to be a person who fails to establish citizenship of Pakistan and is suspected to be involved in waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan or depredation on its territory. It gives powers to police officers, a member of the armed forces or civil armed forces to arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a scheduled offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion or credible information exists that he/she has committed, or is about to commit any such an act or offence. The officer may enter and search, without warrant any premises to make an arrest or take possession of any property likely to be used, in the commission of any scheduled offences.

This includes waging war or threatening the security of Pakistan, crimes against ethnic, religious and political groups or minorities, including offences based on discrimination, hatred, creed and race, use of arson, fire-bombs, suicide bombs, biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear arms, plastic explosives, apart from killing, kidnapping, extortion, assault or attack of members of the Parliament, the judiciary, the executive, media, and government employees, including the armed forces and law enforcement agencies, foreign nationals and welfare workers.

A person arrested or detained under this ordinance whose identity cannot be ascertained shall be considered as an enemy alien and shall be presumed to be waging war or insurrection against Pakistan. Detentions can extend upto 90 days or more. The law puts the burden of proof on the accused facing the charge of a scheduled offence. The final appeal of a case decided in the special court will be with the Supreme Court.

It also exempts members of the police, armed forces or civil armed forces acting in aid of civil authority, the prosecutor-general, prosecutor, special judicial magistrates or the judge of a special court from being liable for any action for the acts done in good faith during the performance of their duties.