Supreme Court of Pakistan. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court sought on Monday complete record relating to seven former prisoners accused of terrorism and asked why they were still being detained without any trial in internment centres in Parachinar.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed will inquire on Tuesday how many times the review board for extending detention has approved further custody of the prisoners in the detention centres.

The bench had taken up applications regarding the health conditions of the prisoners who had been traced on the directive of the court.

Eleven prisoners had mysteriously gone missing from the gate of Rawalpindi’s Adiyala jail on May 29, 2010, the day they had been acquitted of terrorism charges over their alleged involvement in the audacious October 2009 attacks on the army General Headquarters and the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Hamza Camp in Rawalpindi.

Later, four of them died, again in mysterious circumstances, and the remaining seven were presented before the court on Feb 13 last year.

They were in a bad shape. The court ordered that they be sent to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. Five of them recovered and they were shifted to an internment centre in Parachinar.

The court is also hearing petitions challenging the promulgation of the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations of 2011 and Section 2(1d) of the Army Act of 1952 on which notices have been issued to the respondents, including the ISI and Military Intelligence (MI).

The regulations allow the government to confine persons accused of terrorism in the internment centres set up in Parachinar in Kurram Agency, whereas Section 2(1d) allows arrest of civilians on terrorism charges only if they become subject to the Army Act.

Deputy Attorney General Dil Mohammad Ali informed the court that the review board appraised the evidence after every 120 days to decide whether to release or extend the detention period of the prisoners held on allegations of terrorism.

Justice Azmat asked how long the intelligence agencies would take to decide about the fate of the prisoners.

The chief justice said the intelligence agencies did not have blanket authority to keep anyone in custody for an indefinite period.

Advocate Raja Mohammad Irshad, representing the ISI and MI, said the agencies had handed over the prisoners to the administration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

But the chief justice said the counsel could not absolve himself of the responsibilities since the agencies had taken the custody of the prisoners and the court had been assured of their proper trial.

Raja Irshad said the authorities concerned would release the Adiyala prisoners if the court issued an order in this regard but the court said the agencies should themselves decide the matter.

The counsel said the intelligence agencies never detained people who had a clean record and the government had been asked several times for legislation in this regard.

AFP adds: The lawyer said the group of men detained for years on suspicion of terror attacks had been held on “moral grounds”, admitting that there was no evidence against them.

The seven men were first arrested in November 2007.

When they appeared before the court last year, they were barely able to stand or talk.

Raja Irshad sought to justify the men’s detention but conceded that they could not be put on trial because of a “lack of incriminating evidence”.

“But we are morally convinced that they were involved in terrorism,” he told the court.The chief justice said suspects could not be detained indefinitely and unlawfully.

“Morally they can put anyone behind bars, even me. According to them, all the people are guilty,” he said.

“They should have been released if they could not be tried under the Army Act. They have been in confinement for more than four years,” he added.

Judge Azmat expressed dismay that the government had not enacted appropriate legislation to deal with cases of terrorism.

The intelligence agencies’ counsel said his clients had repeatedly asked the government to pass more effective legislation to ensure that suspects in high-profile cases were not acquitted on the basis of insufficient evidence.

Updated Jan 21, 2013 10:07pm

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