Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi has sparked a constitutional crisis by claiming that he did not sign two crucial laws that would give more power to the state and the military to prosecute people for acts against national security.
The laws, namely the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, were passed by both houses of Pakistan’s parliament in August before it was dissolved ahead of the general elections scheduled for October. However, they required the president’s assent to become effective, according to the Constitution.
On Sunday, Alvi took to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to declare that he had refused to sign the bills and had instructed his staff to return them unsigned to the legislature within the stipulated time. He said he disagreed with the laws and asked for forgiveness from those who would be affected by them.
“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,” Alvi wrote on X.
He also alleged that his staff had undermined his will and command and suggested that someone might have forged his signature.
“However, I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command… But I ask forgiveness from those who will be affected,” he said.
The Ministry of Law and Justice swiftly rebutted Alvi’s statement and accused him of violating the constitution and discrediting his own officials. The ministry said that the president had two options: either give assent to the bills or refer them back to the parliament with specific observations. It said that Alvi had done neither and that the bills had become law by default after 10 days of being presented to him.
“The President has two options: either give assent, or refer the matter to the parliament with specific observations,” the ministry said in a statement. “Such a course of action is against the letter and spirit of the constitution.”
The ministry also said that it had evidence that Alvi had signed the bills and that his comments on his personal social media account had no legal value.
“It is a matter of concern that the president has chosen to discredit his own officials. The president should take responsibility for his own actions,” it said.
The bills in question have been widely criticized by human rights groups, opposition parties and media outlets as an attempt to curb dissent and freedom of expression in Pakistan. They make it a criminal offense to reveal information detrimental to the security and interests of Pakistan or its armed forces. They also empower intelligence agencies to conduct raids and detain civilians even based on suspicion of legal breaches.