The Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) expired on July 15, 2016. The Nawaz Sharif Government is contemplating to revive it. It should avoid doing so as POPA violated the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The Ministry of the Interior has sent a summary to the prime minister, seeking to revive POPA.
The many concerns with respect to POPA undermining basic human rights have only grown over time. POPA empowered the security agencies to detain the accused in prolonged custody without adequate safeguards, which has been a major concern, especially in view of the law enforcement and security agencies’ track record of treatment of detainees.
POPA shifted the burden of proof to the accused and violated due process rights, including the right to a fair trial, which has been acknowledged by the Constitution as a fundamental right.
At the time of PoPA’s approval, the government had assured parliament that it will be used only against ‘jet black terrorists’. That, however, has not proven to be the case and slum dwellers of Islamabad and protesting peasants in Okara are only some of the examples of the ordinary citizens against whom the law has been invoked. A number of political parties are said to be wary of POPA revival reportedly over concerns that the broad powers for law enforcement agencies under the law have been used to target political workers.
In 2014, many opposition political parties were apprehensive of the draconian nature of the law and the so-called sunset clause of two years was inserted to reassure them that this extraordinary legislation would remain in existence only for a short period. It is a fair question to ask why the government inserted the sunset clause in the law, if it intended to extend the law.
The special courts under this law have remained largely non-functional for considerable time and failed to prosecute those accused of committing terrorist offenses.