Thursday Jul 01, 2021
The Punjab Assembly has amended a law to give it powers to arrest and prosecute journalists, bureaucrats and lawmakers.
The Provincial Assembly of the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Act, 2021 was tabled by Pakistan People’s Party’s MPA Usman Mehmood as a private member’s bill.
Even though the bill was not on the agenda, and neither was it sent to the relevant committee to be examined, it was passed by majority in the House on Tuesday, without much resistance from the opposition parties.
Under the Act, Sergeant-at-Arms now has the power to arrest any person on the orders of the Speaker, to prevent them from acting in any manner in breach of privileges within the precincts of the Assembly.
The arrests can be made without warrant, at any place within the “precincts of the Assembly”, which has been defined as the assembly’s courtyard, hall, lobbies, press galleries, rooms etc.
The new law also allows for the use of “reasonable force as may be necessary” when making the arrests.
Now, the speaker “can in writing direct the arrest and detention in custody” of any member, meaning a journalist, bureaucrat and/or any me lawmaker.
The Act further calls for the establishment of a Judicial Committee of the Assembly, notified by the Speaker, to try offences and award punishments and the sentence passed by the Committee will have the same status as a sentence awarded by the Magistrate of 1st Class.
Reza Ali, a lawyer based in Lahore, told Geo.tv that the Amendment Act can be challenged on the basis that it contravenes various legal provisions of the Punjab Privileges Act 1972, where the members of assemblies are immune from detention, whilst the session is pending. “It also delegates excessive powers to the Speaker and the Presiding Officers and ultimately to the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest a member, which is illegal.”
Ali added that under the Act only the Speaker can hear an appeal against the arrest of a member, which is a usurpation of a Judicial function. “The Act is liable to be challenged” in court, the lawyer explained.
For those convicted, the Act allows an appeal within 30 days, but to only the speaker of the Assembly.
Some of the violations carry the following sentences: