May 20, 2023

Staff Report


South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of Human Rights Defenders, has expressed strong condemnation and deep concern over the recent endorsement by Pakistan’s National Security Council to subject civilians involved in political protests to military trials. The decision has raised serious alarms within the human rights community.

On May 16, 2023, reports emerged stating that Pakistan’s top security body, the National Security Council, had endorsed the Pakistan Army’s proposal to try individuals engaged in acts of arson and vandalism during the recent political protests under the Army Act and Official Secrets Act, bypassing the traditional civilian courts.

The protests erupted throughout the country following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023, by the National Accountability Bureau on charges of alleged corruption. Although Khan was granted bail two days later, the demonstrations escalated, leading to widespread incidents of vandalism and arson.

SAHR firmly supports the right to political expression and free speech but unequivocally condemns any form of violence, including acts of arson and vandalism. The organization recognizes the importance of upholding the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the justice system.

During the protests, several key installations linked to the Pakistan Army, including the Corps Commander House in Lahore, were targeted and set ablaze. In response, high-ranking commanders of the Pakistan Army made the decision to prosecute the protestors under the Army and Official Secrets Acts. This decision was subsequently endorsed by the National Security Council, comprising the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, and other relevant officials.

It is worth noting that military courts have been utilized in the past to try Pakistani civilians. However, in 2018, the Peshawar High Court overturned the convictions of more than 70 individuals who had been tried by military courts on terrorism-related charges. The court highlighted that the military court process violated the constitutionally protected right to a fair trial.

SAHR strongly condemns any decision to subject civilians to military trials and emphasizes the importance of prosecuting the individuals responsible for acts of vandalism and arson through the proper channels of the criminal justice system in Pakistan. The organization urges the authorities to ensure that the accused receive a fair trial, adhering to the principles of justice, due process, and human rights.

SAHR remains committed to advocating for the protection of human rights and the promotion of democratic values across the South Asian region.


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