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Explainer | Will The FATF Bills Undermine Civil Liberties?

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FATF bills were unanimously passed in the joint session of the Parliament amid opposition’s protest. Earlier, the opposition has shot down yet another Financial Action Task Force-related bill in the Senate on the grounds that it is a threat to civil liberties enjoyed by Pakistani citizens.

A day after the National Assembly passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (amendment) Bill, 2020, Senate rejected the proposed piece of legislation, just like the two other bills — Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill and the Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Bill — it had refused to approve in August.

According to Dawn, the ATA Bill proposes the investigating officer, with the permission of the court, can conduct ‘covert operations’ to detect terrorism funding, track communications and computer system by applying the latest technologies in 60 days.

“The main purpose of introducing this bill is to enable law enforcement agencies to eradicate these curses by adopting certain preventive techniques with the empowered assistance of the courts of law.”

However, the opposition says this vague clause in the bill is a threat to the civil liberties enjoyed by the Pakistani citizens.

Similarly, Senate that is dominated by the opposition parties rejected two bills last month after Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem refused to tender an apology for remarks that he made against the opposition leadership, as per a Dawn report.

The bills were rejected by Senate a day after the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) managed to get these bills passed from the National Assembly ‘through a well-planned strategy and with covert support of opposition parties’.

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The Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill was passed by the National Standing Committee on Finance in 25 minutes on Aug 11 in spite of the reservations expressed by the opposition lawmakers, according to a report in The News. The opposition members termed approval of the bill a ‘bulldozing’ exercise because none of the opposition’s proposals were included in the bill.

The second amendment in the anti-money laundering bill increased the penalty for laundering money from Rs5 million to Rs25m in case of an individual, while for an institution or a company this would amount to Rs100 million. It also empowers the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to proceed against the suspects in the money laundering cases.

“It said the opposition parties were of the view that since NAB could initiate proceedings against a suspect for money laundering, therefore, in the AMLA the bureau might be excluded from the list of the executing agencies in schedule offences of AMLA,” said a news report in Dawn newspaper.

Civil liberties under threat?

According to the news report, the deadlock between the government and the opposition parties was not on the accountability laws, but the opposition was concerned that the passage of these bills would result in an attack on civil liberties.

“Out of 13 FATF-related bills, the other bills were about amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Evacuee Properties and Cooperative Societies Act. The bills related to amendments to the Evacuee Properties and Cooperative Societies Act had almost been settled, but there was a stalemate on AMLA and CrPC’s amendment bills,” it reported.

However, PM Imran has linked this resistance by the opposition to their alleged corrupt practices. Irked by the continuous rejection of proposed legislation, Prime Minister Imran Khan lashed out at the opposition parties, saying that the opposition’s interests and the country’s interests are ‘divergent’.

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“As accountability noose has tightened, opposition leaders have become desperate to save their corrupt money by trying to prevent parliament from functioning,” the PM had claimed, adding that the opposition was ‘trying to sabotage efforts to exit FATF grey list’.

“Opposition tries to hide behind the facade of democracy to protect their loot & plunder. To blackmail for NRO by defanging NAB, they would even have Pak put on FATF blacklist to destroy the nation’s economy & increase poverty. They keep threatening to bring down govt unless given NRO,” he had added, asserting that no NRO would be given at any cost.

In response to the tweets by the premier, PPP Leader in Senate Sherry Rehman said the opposition opposed the bills because they contained clauses that would give the law enforcers ‘powers to arrest anyone without warrants’.

“This is neither required by FATF nor is it defensible in any form of even the most illiberal democracy. These laws are being used to push a draconian agenda,” the senator tweeted.

While taking measures to satisfy FATF is important, giving unbridled powers to the law enforcement agencies would serve to undermine civil liberties. The government must address the oppositions’ grievances instead of dismissing their criticism as ‘anti-Pakistan agenda’.

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Naya Daur