May 16, 2023
By Maryam Missal
Following the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman and former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and subsequent riots across the country, provincial police have been conducting widespread arrests under sections 3 and 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance, 1960 to maintain law and order.
Under Section 3 of the Ordinance (power to arrest and detain suspected persons), the government can order preventative detention of a person if they foresee said person’s intention to engage in activities that could disturb public order or endanger public safety.
Section 16 (dissemination of rumours) states that whoever makes any speech, or by words whether spoken or written or by signs or by visible or audible representations or otherwise publishes any statement, rumour or report, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine, or with both if such speech, statement, rumour or report is likely to further any activity prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order.
Maintenance of public order
This Ordinance finds its roots in the British colonial legal system and was frequently used following Pakistan’s independence in 1947. However, it was formally promulgated as the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order on December 2, 1960, during the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan.
The MPO Ordinance made it convenient for the political regime of the time to circumvent due process of law in order to clamp down on any individual or group participating in political opposition and protest, or those deemed a threat to the colonial order.
The law established new and revised existing laws governing the preventive detention of individuals and publication control for the preservation of public order, safety of public peace, and public interest.
After the 1971 war, the law was applicable across the country and since its promulgation has been consistently applied and abused by succeeding regimes, including democratic governments.
Application of the order
The MPO Ordinance since its introduction has been a controversial addition.
In a conversation with Voicepk.net, lawyer Ahsan Pirzada said that the Ordinance is not human rights-friendly.
“Said ordinance has been used repeatedly to snub political restlessness and public dissent towards the ruling elites,” he stated.
He related that the biased application of the MPO can be seen during the mass arrests of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) protestors in 1997
, the arrest of Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) chief Afaq Ahmed in 2012
, and now the arrest of PTI leaders and workers in 2023
“Time and time again the police appear to have been using the MPO simply because they did not have sufficient evidence to frame criminal charges against suspects,” Amnesty International observed with regard to widespread detentions observed during the 1997 regime of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
According to legal experts, the MPO Ordinance violates Articles 4 (right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with the law, etc.) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantee liberty and freedom to citizens.
The Ordinance is not just a draconian law but has also worked in the favour of the country, Ahsan Pirzada told Voicepk.net. For example, it was invoked to fight against sectarianism and to prosecute cannibalism