July 19, 2023

Staff report


Of the approximately 200 cases filed against the May 9 rioters, only 20 have attracted provisions under the Pakistan Army Act 1952.

This was stated by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in an interview for Aaj News’ Spotlight on Monday, the same day that the Federal Government stated before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the events of May 9 indicated a “premeditated and international attempt to undermine the country’s armed forces and inhibit the country’s internal security”.

On the question of the Army Act’s limited scope in trying civilians, Sanaullah stated that anyone who attacks a defense installation or trespasses sensitive and prohibited areas can be prosecuted under the Act, whether they be uniformed or in civvies.

He explained that provisions under the Army Act are not included in any of the first information reports (FIRs) lodged against identified rioters due a separation of procedures.

“[Provisions of] the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) have been included in the FIR, while the Army will investigate [Army Act violations] according to its own procedures,”

he said, adding that around 200 accused have been booked under relevant clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the ATA.

The Federal Minister pointed out that around 20 rioters entered prohibited premises, and that therefore these are grounds for their trial under the Act.

“A separate challan will be issued for those 20 people, after which they will be brought before the military court and prosecuted within that jurisdiction. The remaining 190 will be tried under the ATA,” he explained, implying that these cases will be heard in Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs).

Earlier on July 16, caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir revealed that cases against 58 arrested May 9 suspects have been sent to military courts. Furthermore, hundreds of others have also been arrested and are being prosecuted in civil courts.

According to Shah Khawar, a senior lawyer, all official residences of military officers fall under the definition of prohibited areas. As such, those who trespass such properties can be booked under those sections of the PPC for which the right to trial has been relegated to the military courts under the Army Act or any other law.

HR violations under military court system

Under the military court system, civilian defendants cannot hire their own legal counsel and do not have the right to appeal. Verdicts may be issued on confessions alone, while the method by which such confessions are obtained are not known. The media is barred from observing and reporting on proceedings, hence the trial is conducted in absolute secrecy.

The courts are presided over by a three-member bench consisting of a Field General Court Martial equivalent to the rank of Colonel, and two Major-rank officers. Judges are required to have passed an exam on military law during their service – a standard law degree is not required. Furthermore, military court judges are not obligated to provide any reasoning for issued verdicts.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Pakistan in 2010, guarantees the right to timely trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. Pakistan’s obligations to uphold and take measures to ensure basic fair trial rights per this Covenant are directly flouted by the existence and empowerment of military courts, according to a 2017 press release by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Pakistan is the only country in South Asia to allow military courts to try civilians for non-military offenses, including offenses related to terrorism.


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