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HRCP concerned over moves to revive the Protection of Pakistan Act

Zohra YosafLahore : The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern over moves to revive the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA), which had expired on July 15, and urged the government to avoid resorting to laws that violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Commission said: “HRCP notes with great alarm reports of the Ministry of the Interior sending a summary to the prime minister, seeking to revive the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA).

“The many concerns of the civil society with respect to POPA undermining basic human rights have only grown over time. POPA empowered the security agencies to detain the accused in prolonged custody without adequate safeguards, which has been a major concern, especially in view of the law enforcement and security agencies’ track record of treatment of detainees.

“POPA shifted the burden of proof to the accused and violated due process rights, including the right to a fair trial, which has been acknowledged by the Constitution as a fundamental right.

“At the time of PoPA’s approval, the government had assured parliament that it will be used only against ‘jet black terrorists’. That, however, has not proven to be the case and slum dwellers of Islamabad and protesting peasants in Okara are only some of the examples of the ordinary citizens against whom the law has been invoked. A number of political parties are said to be wary of POPA revival reportedly over concerns that the broad powers for law enforcement agencies under the law have been used to target political workers.

“In 2014, many opposition political parties were apprehensive of the draconian nature of the law and the so-called sunset clause of two years was inserted to reassure them that this extraordinary legislation would remain in existence only for a short period. It is a fair question to ask why the government inserted the sunset clause in the law, if it intended to extend the law.

“The special courts under this law have remained largely non-functional for considerable time and failed to prosecute those accused of committing terrorist offenses.

“HRCP urges the government to drop the idea of reviving this draconian law and instead rely on measures that do not violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

“We also demand that the deliberations on the future of POPA must not be held behind closed doors and the concerns from all stakeholders must be considered and addressed.

“HRCP also calls upon lawmakers, especially members of the Senate, to do their duty to safeguard the law and the rights of the people.”

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