Govt gets tough on sedition cases

Amid political bickering against the backdrop of the opposition’s anti-government movement, the federal cabinet on Saturday approved new measures that empowered the interior secretary to register sedition cases against those involved in maligning state and its institutions.

Key federal ministers and sources in different ministries confirmed the development, saying that the federal cabinet has authorised the interior secretary to register “prosecution for offences against the state” on behalf of the federal government.

With the approval, officials said on condition of anonymity, complaints in all such cases would now be lodged by the interior secretary on behalf of the federal government and there would be no need to send summary for approval to the cabinet every time.

According to the summary for cabinet, which is available with The Express Tribune, the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1898, (Act V of 1898) professes to deal exhaustively with the law of procedure and provides in the minutest details the procedure to be followed in every matter pertaining to general administration of criminal law.

It stated that Section 196 of the CrPC provided that prosecution for offences against the state would only be instituted under the authority of the federal government or the provincial government concerned.

Section 196 reads: “Prosecution for offences against the State. No Court shall take cognisance of any offence punishable under Chapter VI or IX-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (except section 127), or punishable under section 108-A, or section 153-A, or section 294-A, or section 295-A or section 505 of the same Code, unless upon complaint made by order of or under authority, from the Federal Government, or the Provincial Government concerned, or some officer empowered in this behalf by either of the two Governments.”

The consequence of the application of Section 196 was that if the mandatory condition of sanction by the federal government or the provincial government concerned was not obtained, then the entire proceedings would become without jurisdiction or coram non judice – “not before a judge”.

Through the summary, it was proposed that the “federal cabinet may authorise secretary Ministry of Interior, under Section 196 of the Code, to severally file prosecution or complaint on behalf of the Federal Government in respect of any of the offences mentioned in Section 196 of the Code.”

The cabinet has now approved the summary after circulating it among the cabinet members.

Interior ministry sources said that one of the reasons behind the move was a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 in which the apex court had stated that the prime minister in capacity of the chief executive of the country executes policy decisions but does not take them by himself without consulting and obtaining approval from the cabinet.

Due to the judgment, one of the sources said, “each and every decision even [those] of the administrative nature was being sent to the cabinet for approval”, adding that the approval was “in fact delegation of power and not any amendment to the CrPC [Code].”

The Supreme Court had ruled that the federal government was defined as prime minister and the federal cabinet and, therefore, decisions taken by ministries or cabinet committees were considered recommendatory only and have to be approved by the full cabinet chaired by the prime minister to become government policies.

Reportedly, the Lahore High Court (LHC) had quashed a treason case against former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf as no record of cabinet’s approval over filing of treason case against him was produced in the court.

In January,  media report had said that the case against Musharraf seemed to have been filed at the behest of the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, as there was no record of the matter being on the agenda of any of the cabinet meetings held at that time.

In October, following the registration of a sedition case against Sharif and PML-N top leadership, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, the federal government had to distance itself from the “move” as it was initially believed that the federal government was behind the move.

Later, Prime Minister Imran Khan “expressed his strong displeasure” over the development and it had surfaced that Shahdara police station had registered the case under sedition and other serious charges against Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and 41 other senior leaders of the party, on the complaint of a citizen, Badar Rasheed, for delivering “hateful speeches” against the state and its institutions.

Following the delegation of powers to the interior ministry, legal experts said, things were expected to get tough for the opposition parties and many others, who were often labelled as ‘traitors’, ‘agents’ and accused of playing at the hands of the foreign agencies and being funded by the same.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)