BREAKING: ‘As God is my witness’: President Alvi says he did not assent to bills amending Army Act, secrets law

BREAKING: ‘As God is my witness’: President Alvi says he did not assent to bills amending Army Act, secrets law
BREAKING: ‘As God is my witness’: President Alvi says he did not assent to bills amending Army Act, secrets law

ISLAMABAD, AUG 20: In a startling turn of events, President Arif Alvi said on Sunday that he did not sign the bills amending the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act into law as he “disagreed with these laws”. He alleged that his staff “undermined” his will and command.

In a post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), Alvi said: “As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill, 2023 and Pakistan Army Amendment Bill, 2023 as I disagreed with these laws.”

The president said he asked his staff to return the bills unsigned within the stipulated time to make them “uneffective”.

“I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned and was assured that they were. However, I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command. As Allah knows all, He will forgive Insha’Allah. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be effected,” the president said.

So far, the President House has not released a statement responding to Alvi’s claims.

According to a Dawn report, Alvi had given his assent to the Of­­ficial Secrets (Amend­m­ent) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amend­ment) Bill, 2023 on Saturday, allowing the pieces of proposed legislation to become acts of Parliament.

Both the bills were approved by the Senate and National Assembly and sent to the president for his approval amid criticism by opposition lawmakers a few weeks ago.

Section 6-A of the secrets act creates a new offence of unauthorised disclosure of the identities of members of intelligence agencies, informants or sources. The offence would be punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to Rs10 million.

The Army Act paves the way for the punishment of up to five-year rigorous imprisonment to any person guilty of disclosing any information, acquired in an official capacity that is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the armed forces.

One of the amendments in the act accords more powers to the army chief and barred ex-servicemen from engaging in politics as well as taking up ventures, which could come into conflict with the army’s interest. It also proposed imprisonment for defamation of the army.

The new law also forbids any person subject to the army act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of their “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service.

The president’s statement comes a day after PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was picked up in connection with a first information report registered on Aug 15 under the Official Secrets Act against the former foreign minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

The case was registered after an American news outlet The Intercept rece­ntly published what was clai­med to be the diplomatic cable which had reportedly gone missing from Imran’s possession.

Imran, who was interrogated by Federal Investigation Agency a few days ago in the cipher case in Attock jail where he was lodged after his conviction in the Toshakhana case, claimed he was ousted from office last year under a “US conspiracy”. The PTI alleges that cipher contained the threat from the United States to oust Mr Khan from power.

Alvi returns over a dozen bills
Last week, the president had returned over a dozen bills for reconsideration by Parliament. The returned bills had been passed by both houses of parliament at the fag end of the PML-N-led government’s term, and their fate will be decided after general elections when a new National Assembly is in place.

These bills include the Code of Criminal Proce­dure amendment bill seeking to enhance punishment for those who disrespect the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his companions and other religious figures.

The other returned bills include Press, News­papers, News Agencies and Books Registration amendment bill, seeking to replace the word ‘federal government’ wherever occurring in the law with ‘Prime Minister’; the protection of Journalists and Media Professionals bill, seeking to transfer implementation of protection of journalists from Ministry of Human Rights to the Ministry of Information; and the National Commission for Human Development (Amend­ment) Bill to redefine the functions of NCHD and make some amendments in its governing structure for efficiency and ease doing business.

Another bill that had been returned was Imports and Exports (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2023, aimed at addressing hardship cases, received from the business community and other quarters for one-time relaxation of import/export-related prohibitions and restrictions.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) bill seeking to enhance the term of HEC chairman to four years has also been returned by President Alvi. The other returned bills include public sector commission amendment bill, Pakistan Institute of Management Sciences Bill, Horizon University bill, Federal Urdu University amendment bill, NFC Institute, Multan amendment bill and National Institute for Technology bill.