Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 allows detention of terror suspects for up to 60 days without any formal charge.
Parliament amended an anti-terrorism law on Wednesday, doubling the maximum prison sentence for those convicted of terror offences and allowing security forces to detain suspects for up to 60 days without formally charging them of any crime.
The government had faced a battle to enact the tough anti-terror law that rights activists and opposition parties had attacked as repressive.
The Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 allows security forces to detain suspects for up to 60 days without disclosing their whereabouts or the allegations against them. It also allows for people who have been found guilty of terror offences to go to jail for 20 years, up from 10.
When the legislation was first introduced as an ordinance in April it allowed for 90 days detention, which was criticized by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and opposition parties. Security forces had also been granted powers to open fire on anyone they saw committing or “likely to commit” terror-related offences, but the amendment only allows senior officers to act “as a last resort.”
Wednesday’s amending and approval of the law by the National Assembly came after the Senate passed it the day before.
The law comes as the Pakistan Army is engaged in a massive offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced the legislation in a bid to curb the violence and instability blighting the state. Law enforcement agencies and the sclerotic courts system have struggled to make any impact on the violence.
The legislation is aimed at improving Pakistan’s security and ensuring speedy convictions. M.P. Zahid Hamid said the law would also “give statutory cover” to armed forces fighting local and foreign militants in North Waziristan since the operation started in mid-June.
So far, 376 militants and 19 soldiers have been killed in the offensive and nearly 500,000 people have been displaced, according to the military, though with the area off-limits to journalists the number and identity of the dead is impossible to verify.