Swear to God, I didn’t sign Official Secrets, Army Amendments bills: President

ISLAMABAD (PPI): President Dr Arif Alvi said Sunday that he did not sign the Official Secrets Amendment Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Army Amendment Bill, 2023 as he disagreed with these laws.

President Alvi shared a post on the X platform (formerly Twitter) in which he wrote: “As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned & 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 IA. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be effected.”

Yesterday, it was reported that President Arif Alvi signed the Pakistan Army Act (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 into law. Both the bills, passed by the National Assembly and the Sindh, were forwarded to the president by the previous government of Shehbaz Sharif.

The development came days after reports that the president had declined to sign over a dozen bills and sent back to the parliament for review. The changes in the Official Secrets Act and the Army Act will likely affect the PTI leaders and supporters who face a string of cases for their alleged involvement in the May 9 violence.

The FIA this week had registered a new case against PTI chairman under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act. He is being accused of leaking the diplomatic cipher at the heart of PTI’s claims about a US conspiracy to oust Imran Khan’s government.

Since yesterday, several arrests have been made in Islamabad. PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi, former federal minister Asad Umar, former Member of National Assembly Wazir Ali, and human rights lawyer Imaan Mazari have been arrested. The National Assembly passed the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 on Monday last after making some alterations to the original draft — just like the Senate had a day earlier.

The original draft empowered intelligence agencies to arrest suspects or conduct searches without warrants. This clause was dropped in the final version of the bill.

Another change was made to clause 5 of the bill, which earlier stated: “[A] person may be presumed to have been in communication with enemy or a foreign agent if he has, either within or without Pakistan visited the address of a foreign agent or consorted or associated with enemy or a foreign agent…”

The National Assembly passed the Army Act (Amendment) Bill on July 31. The amended law proposed up to five years in jail for those who disclose sensitive information pertaining to the security of the country or the military.

The bill also proposed introducing 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”.