President Arif Alvi, in a startling turn of events, has denied signing the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 and Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023.
“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,” President Alvi claimed in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
President Alvi added that he asked his staff to return the bills unsigned within the stipulated time to make them “ineffective”.
“I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned and 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 Insha’Allah. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be affected,” the president added.
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…— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) August 20, 2023
A day earlier it was reported that the president has signed into law the Official Secrets Amendment Bill and the Army Act Amendment Bill.
On July 31, the National Assembly, passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aiming to penalize individuals with a potential five-year imprisonment term for disclosing sensitive information concerning national security or the armed forces.
Separately, the Official Secrets Act was greenlit just a few days before the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 7.
Following approval of the bills from both the Senate and National Assembly, they were sent to the president for a final nod.
The move drew criticism from lawmakers belonging to both treasury and opposition benches.
Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023
Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023 states that those who disclose information against the interests of the country or the army will be dealt with under the Official Secrets Act and the Army Act.
The bill proposes up to five years in jail for anyone who discloses sensitive information regarding the security of the country or the army.
Furthermore, the bill proposes 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”.
The bill also proposes introducing Sections 55-A (conflict of interest), 55-B (electronic crimes), and 55-C (defamation).
The Section 55-B states that any person who 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.
As per Section 55-C, a person subject to the Army Act, who “ridicules, scandalizes, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part thereof in the estimation of others shall […] be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both.”