Following the violent riots that erupted after the arrest of former prime minister and chairman of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan on May 9, police have been making widespread arrests under Sections 3 and 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance from 1960 in order to maintain law and order.
Section 3 of the Ordinance grants the government the power to detain individuals as a preventive measure if there is a belief that they intend to engage in activities that could disrupt public order or endanger public safety.
Section 16, known as the “dissemination of rumors” clause, states that anyone who makes a speech or communicates through words, signs, visible or audible representations, or any other means, and publishes a statement, rumor, or report that is likely to further any activity prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order, can be punished with imprisonment of up to three years, a fine, or both.
The Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance has its origins in the British colonial legal system and was formally enacted as the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order on December 2, 1960, during General Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship. It provided a convenient way for the ruling regime to bypass due process of law and suppress individuals or groups involved in political opposition, protests, or perceived threats to the existing order.
The law established regulations for the preventive detention of individuals and controlled the publication of information to ensure public order, peace, and the public interest.
Since its introduction, the MPO Ordinance has been a contentious addition to the legal framework.
Human rights advocates have criticised the ordinance for its disregard for human rights.
Amnesty International has observed that the police often resort to the MPO when they lack sufficient evidence to press criminal charges against suspects.
Legal experts argue that the MPO Ordinance violates Articles 4 and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which guarantee the rights of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with the law and the equality of citizens.