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Wednesday, February 28, 2024  
17 Shaban 1445  

Army Act amendment does not apply to civilians, says Marriyum

Information minister quotes Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar as saying about tweaks
Exclusive interview with Marriyum Aurangzeb - Faisla Aap ka with Asma Shirazi - Aaj News

The Army Act amendment bill, which includes two years of punishment for defaming the army, does not apply to civilians, the information minister cited while quoting the law minister as saying.

“This is categoric[al],” she said on Asma Shirazi’s show Faisla Aap Ka on Thursday. “These things have come into the defence laws and security of forces because of the evolution of everything.”

She was sharing the verbatim account of Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar from whom they took details on the proposed legislation where the latter “categorically” made the above mention statement.

The information minister was responding to a query about whether it was true or not that the Officials Secrets Act or Army Act would be used against the former prime minister.

She added that the defence ministry did the amendments what it deemed necessary according to the prevailing situation. Like, she said the Officials Secrets Act related to serving officers was further strengthened when they were appointed to a defence, atomic programme, or a secret job.

Marriyum nodded when the host asked if it was purely for the armed forces of Pakistan if someone breaks it.

The bill, which was moved by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, also says that divulging information related to national security and national interests would lead to a prison sentence of up to five years. The person will be penalised under the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act.

The PML-N leader went on to add that “specific jobs”, areas of defence and security where the officers have intelligence information, were also made part of the bill. They have been “time-barred” for indulging in any such activity and they cannot pass on such information, she added.

Marriyum gave an example to support the tweak by saying that such people around the world do not meet after completion of their jobs for a certain time. “I think it is a good amendment for further securing this important information that this information stays with them.”

Section 55-B states that any person, who is or has been subjected to the Army Act, and commits an offence under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016 “with the malafide intention to undermine, ridicule, or scandalize the armed forces of Pakistan,” shall be punished in the manner prescribed in the Peca law.

She added that the platforms of PECA introduced in the bill were not included in the Army Act of 1952 so they were added.

When asked about the need of introducing such a bill, the information minister said the process was concluding now. She shared that it took her ministry 11 months to prepare Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Amendment Bill 2023.

“So there is a consultation within the institution, across the board, cabinet, and vetting in the law ministry. So this is continuity of the whole process,” said Marriyum.

The host also discussed Section 26-B, which 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”.

When asked about it was specific to former spymaster General (retd) Faiz Hameed, the information minister replied that amendments or laws were made after seeing “diversity and new situation”. She said they were not “person-specific”.

PEMRA bill

Marriyum was on the Aaj News show to speak on the PEMRA bill, Army Act, a missing journalist, and the caretaker government.

While speaking about disinformation and misinformation, she said that news organisations cannot run news without taking a stance or version of the party concerned.

“Until he is proven guilty you cannot run his statement.”

She defended the bill, saying that similar information was used in the European Union and by the Human Rights Commission.

Many people from the journalistic fraternity have expressed concerns over the word “intention” mentioned in the bill. She explained that the Pemra chief has no right to vote on complaints.

A 12-member committee comprising eight private and four government members would make a decision on the prohibition of a media channel which she was according to the judgement of court.

Marriyum added that the complaint would further go to the council of complaint which has to give a decision within 20 days. She added the below-mentioned four-tier system for complaints resolution.

  • Pemra chief
  • 12-member committee
  • Council of complaint
  • High court

While responding to a question, she said that the media owners have signed the agreement on paying the salaries to employees on time. She claimed to have recovered Rs120 million over the last six months, which was due in the form of salaries and given direct salaries to employees.

She added the media organisations were bound to pay Rs32,000 of the minimum wage to employees.

When asked about the amount of punishment, she said that the Rs10 million fine was imposed when anyone commits a severe violation like repeating the same mistake despite being flagged several times.

She clarified that there was no punishment when any news organisation runs a denial statement from the party concerned. The information minister has stressed the need for self-regulation.

Caretaker setup

Marriyum said that as per the Constitution consultation for the caretaker prime minister was held between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

She added that PM Shehbaz has taken every decision after making a committee with coalition partners.

“PM has spoken about this in his speech. I don’t know about the date it will be decided after consultation, but we will dissolve assemblies before our constitutional tenure hopefully,” the information minister said.

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