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Secrecy shrouds missing persons’ appearance

December 08, 2013

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Police officers escort a man, who covers himself with a cloth, as he leaves after appearing before the Supreme Court in Islamabad December 7, 2013. — Photo by Reuters
Police officers escort a man, who covers himself with a cloth, as he leaves after appearing before the Supreme Court in Islamabad December 7, 2013. — Photo by Reuters
Pakistani policemen escort newly-identified missing persons following an identification process as they leave the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on December 7, 2013.  — Photo by AFP
Pakistani policemen escort newly-identified missing persons following an identification process as they leave the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on December 7, 2013. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, Dec 7: On Saturday, a day when the court usually does not hold proceedings, the defence ministry brought some of the missing persons before Justice Amir Hani Muslim to comply with the Supreme Court’s directives, but with their faces covered in order to conceal their identity.

But how many of the 14 ordered to be produced were brought to the court remained unknown.

“Only six persons have been identified,” Attorney General Muneer A. Malik told reporters after attending over four hours of in-camera proceedings.

According to sources, seven persons were presented and their record would be placed on Monday before a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, which is hearing the case of enforced disappearance of Yasin Shah.

The bench had ordered the ministry on Friday to produce 14 of the 35 missing persons before Justice Muslim at 10.30am on Saturday.Their names were kept secret, but Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had informed the court that seven of them were free and could be produced.

The court had ordered that not only those seven but also two others who were interned, along with five people about whom information was still unsubstantiated, should be brought before the judge. Fourteen persons were brought at around noon in two vans which were parked just outside the Supreme Court entrance inside the premises. All of them, some young, some middle aged and a few old, jumped and rushed towards the nearest small courtroom amidst heavy police presence which cordoned off the entire area to prevent media’s interaction with them so their relatives.

The same exercise was repeated when they were taken back after the proceedings at around 4.45pm.

The AG as well as Additional Attorney General Tariq Khokhar, acting Defence Secretary retired Maj Gen Raja Arif Nazir and Malakand Internment Centre Superintendent Attaullah, along with relevant record, were in the courtroom to identify the missing persons.

It is believed that the persons who waited in a different room were called one by one along with their relatives and examined by Justice Muslim with the help of Mr Attaullah.

The superintendent had informed the court that 66 undeclared interned persons, including Yasin Shah, had been handed over to him in September 2011 by army authorities without any internment order. Thirty-one of them were later declared interned persons and the remaining 35, including Yasin Shah, were shifted out of the Malakand centre by army authorities.

“Please do not ask me about the numbers and do not put me in a number game,” the acting secretary said while talking to reporters. “We have complied with the orders of the court to the possible extent.”

Those who could not be produced would be brought on Monday or Tuesday, he said and added that the government was duty bound to obey the orders of the court.

“This is the triumph of the constitution, the law and democracy,” AAG Tariq Khokhar said while talking to Dawn. Amina Masood Janjua, who is campaigning for the cause of missing persons had arranged a demonstration mainly comprising their relatives at the D-Chowk, complained that by concealing the names the authorities had confused the matter in such a way that all the relatives in the protest believed that the ones being produced were their near and dear ones.

Advocate Col Inamur Raheem expressed doubt that the persons being produced were the ones mentioned by Mr Attaullah.

This is the second occasion when missing persons have been produced before the court. On Feb 13 last year, the seven surviving Adiyala prisoners who had been missing were produced before the court, but in a very bad shape.

“This is vindication of the stand taken by AAG Tariq Khokhar who had told the court that these persons were with them (defence authorities) and could be produced,” said a senior counsel.

The defence ministry, in a letter to the AG, had accused the AAG of misrepresenting its point of view and demanded his dissociation from the case. But the AG said that if the ministry was not satisfied, it should engage a counsel of its own.