July 24th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Another Eid has passed away, with Sharafat Bibi’s misery only increasing manifold. The husband of Sharafat Bibi – residents of Swat, Muhammad Alam went missing on 1st July 2017. Sharafat kept frantically searching for him in these four long and agonizing years. However in a turn of events, it was only last month that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Persons (COEID) finally informed her that Muhammad Alam had been located at an internment centre in Swat.
“As per representatives of the Military Intelligence and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) along with the statement of the wife of Muhammad Alam, he is confined in the Internment Centre Fizaghat (in Swat). No further action is required. The case is closed,” reads the entry for missing person number 6949-K with the COIED. The commission has disposed yet another case of enforced disappearance in June.
As per June’s data, the COIED stated that 11 missing persons were traced and found confined in internment centres, taking the total number of missing persons found confined in internment centres to 903.
Similarly, Mohthina Bibi, a resident of the Khar tehsil of Bajaur district, was informed in a hearing of the COIED that her year and a half long wait for the whereabouts of her missing son Muslim Khan had come to an end. Muslim Khan had been reported missing on 20th November 2019.
“Representatives of the Military Intelligence submitted report at the hearing on 4th June, 2021 that Muslim Khan is confined at Internment Centre Khar in (Bajaur district). Family members shall be facilitated to see him. No further action is required. The case is closed,” reads entry for 6943-K in the COIED case disposal list of June.
Another mother from Bajaur district, Gul Farosha was also told that her son Muhammad Alam, missing since 25th January 2018, was confined at Internment Centre Ghalanai in Mohmand district.
“Traced Person. Muhammad Alam as per report of the Military Intelligence and statement of mother of the Traced Person is confined at Internment Centre Ghalanai, District Mohamand. No further action is required. The case is closed,” the COIED states in the disposal list.
All the above persons and hundreds of others have been detained under the Action (in Aid of Civil Powers) Regulation 2011 enforced in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the only law in the country that sanctions enforced disappearances. The regulation assigns wide-ranging powers to the authorised officers and armed forces besides giving an interning authority to detain a suspect until the continuation of action in aid of civil power by the armed forces.
In a landmark judgment on 17th October, 2019, the Peshawar High Court had set aside both the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011, as well as KP Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Ordinance, 2019, declaring them to be against the Constitution. The PHC also directed the KP government to share a list of inmates in internment centres with the police department. It also directed the Inspector General of police (IGP) to take over all such centres.
The Supreme Court issued a stay against the PHC verdict following appeals filed by the federal and provincial governments. The matter is pending before a five-member bench of the apex court for about a year and a half. In the last hearing of the bench, the then attorney general had told judges that the government is in process of bringing legislation to replace the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011, according to Shabbir Hussain Gigyani, counsel for the petitioner in the PHC verdict. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Ordinance has lapsed as the provincial government did not put up for extension before the cabinet, Gigyani told Voicepk.net.
8,000 detainees across internment centers
According to the COIED, the number of reported missing persons confined in internment centres is 903. However, Gigyani disputes the figure saying that about 8,000 detainees are being held in internment centers just across KP. The government has not disclosed the exact number of internment centres or the number of detainees there, he said. The fate of the detainees hangs in the balance despite repeated applications to the apex court for early hearing of the case, he added.
Gigyani terms the Regulation, 2011, the most draconian law in the country, saying its provision has given unbridled powers to security forces to detain a suspect in internment centers without trial for indefinite period. “The Frontier Crimes Regulation, often dubbed as a black law, enforced in erstwhile FATA appears benign if seen in comparison with the Regulation 2011,” he said.
He said the regulation 2011 was enforced with retrospective effect from 2008, the period of military operations in the region. However, he said constitutional provisions barred any penal law from being enforced with retrospective effect. “For instance, the Anti-terrorism Act 1997 repealed the Suppression of Terrorism Activities Act 1975 but any person who was charged prior to the new law will face sentence under the old law,” he explained.
No oversight board formed in 10 years
Interestingly, the regulation calls for constitution of an oversight board for each internment center comprising two civilian and two military officers to review the case of each internee within 120 days of issuance of the order of internment. The oversight board will prepare a report for consideration of the provincial government. Under the regulation, the governor is supposed to notify oversight boards for internment centers.
Gigyani said no oversight board has ever been constituted since the regulation was enforced in 2011. He said the regulation also protects detentions made retrospectively till 2008 in the erstwhile federal tribal areas. The senior lawyer said he moved a petition before the Peshawar High Court in September last year, seeking a review board as envisaged in Article 10 of the Constitution, to review cases of internees/detainees who are in detention for more than three months under preventive detention law. The petition sought details of total number of internment centers, total number of detainees there, number of detainees who have died in custody, and the total number of detainees forwarded for trial in the military courts. He said the high court has sought a reply from the provincial government which has not provided details yet.
Gigyani said the 2011 Regulation is the bedrock of enforced disappearances in the country. “The security forces have used the regulation to pick up suspects and detain them for years without trial or intimation to their families from across the country and not erstwhile FATA alone,” he claimed.
According to the COIED, most of the missing persons found detained in internment centres belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In its June report, the commission stated that 750 missing persons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were found confined in internment centres. The commission listed 89 missing individuals from Punjab, 39 from Sindh, 20 from Islamabad, three from Azad Kahmir and one each from Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan that been traced to internment centres. These figures from the COIED point out that the use of the draconian regulation is not limited to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province but to the rest of the country as well.