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Pakistan's New Counterterrorism Law Opposed


Relatives display pictures of people who have gone missing in restive province of Balochistan.

Politicians, lawyers, and human rights campaigners are opposing a new Pakistani counterterrorism law, arguing that it threatens human rights by granting sweeping powers to security forces.

At least two politicians have spoken out against the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA), which was signed into law by Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain on July 11.

Sirajul Haq, leader of the Islamist Jamaat-e Isami political party called the bill heavy-handed on July 13, saying it will convert Pakistan into a "police state."

"We will oppose this law in the streets and have decided to formally challenge it in the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court," he told reporters.

Separately, lawmaker Jamshed Dasti moved to challenge the law in the High Court of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on July 14. He is asking the court to repeal the law, arguing that it contradicts fundamental human rights clauses enshrined in the country's constitution.

Supporters of the law say the PPA is an extraordinary law for an extraordinary situation. For the next two years it will empower security forces to hold terrorism suspects for 60 days without charges and even without disclosing their whereabouts. It also allows fairly low-level security officials to order the shooting of suspects.

"This law can be used against anyone [with impunity]," Former Attorney General Qazi Anwar told Radio Mashaal. "In my career as a lawyer, I have not seen such a [draconian] law even in the books. But Pakistan is an extraordinary place where anything can happen."

Zohra Yousaf, head of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that the law is prone to misuse.

"If you look at our police and security forces, they do practice torture and even engage in extra-judicial murders," she said. "This gives us strong reason to suspect that the PPA will be abused to trample over human rights."

The families of the victims of enforced disappearance, a practice in which suspected insurgents and political activists are held by security forces without charges or word of their whereabouts, worry that their loved ones are extremely vulnerable to abuse under the new law.

Mama Qadeer Baloch, an elderly activist from the restive southwestern province of Balochistan who claims his son was abducted and murdered by security forces, says the law will further embolden them to act with impunity.

"We are being threatened every day. Our activists are being assassinated frequently," he said. "The implementation of this law will only result in more killings."

Baloch's son, Jalil Reiki, was abducted in 2009 and his is bullet-riddled body was dumped in a remote corner of Balochistan in 2011. Baloch claims that Pakistani security forces are responsible for abducting thousands of ethnic Baloch activists who security forces suspect of being linked to a separatist insurgency in the province.

International human-rights watchdogs have documented hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances. Some of the victims are later killed and their bodies dumped.

Human Rights Watch has also called on Islamabad to withdraw the PPA. In a July 3 statement the organization observed that "the new law would violate fundamental rights to freedom of speech, privacy, peaceful assembly, and due process."

Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW, observed that "the vague and overbroad counterterrorism law gives a green light for abusing suspects in detention," he said. "Denying Pakistanis their universal rights and freedoms as a means to fight terrorism is a victory for the terrorists and a defeat for rule of law."

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