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Military court trials

Published Aug 15, 2015 06:08am


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Simply naming individuals convicted and giving the barest details of the crimes they are accused of is not enough. —AFP/File
Simply naming individuals convicted and giving the barest details of the crimes they are accused of is not enough. —AFP/File

WITH the Supreme Court having accepted the constitutionality of military courts for civilian terrorism suspects, the army has wasted little time in restarting what will likely soon come to resemble a processing mill for death and life sentences being handed down.

What is particularly troubling is that the SC’s recent judgement on the constitutionality of military courts — the 21st Amendment case — appears to have had no impact on either the form or substance of the military court decrees.

Know more: Military courts announce death sentences of six convicts

A majority of the apex court judges explicitly held that the new military court regime must provide a fair trial and adequate procedural safeguards, and that sentences handed down by military courts will be judicially reviewable by the high courts and the SC itself.

The ISPR press release on Thursday announcing the death sentences confirmed by the army chief for seven individuals does contain this sentence: “The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/providing them legal aid and defence counsels.”

But in the absence of absolutely any details of the trial, it is impossible to assess whether a reasonable and independent assessment would concur with the claim that a fair trial was provided.

Intriguingly, the ISPR press release makes no mention of the “hardcore terrorists” right to appeal to the high courts and the SC. Instead, there is simply this assertion: “The convicts have the right to file an appeal before the Military Court of Appeals.” That in and of itself does not violate the SC judgement, given that appeals to the high courts usually take place after appeals in other permissible forums have been exhausted.

But it is striking that there is no mention of what the SC explicitly asserted just a week ago. It does appear that the military is determined to maintain maximum control over the process by which civilians accused of terrorism are dealt with by the military courts.

There is certainly no denying the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocities that have been committed against the people of Pakistan, in particular the APS massacre but all other acts of terrorism, too. But the ends of justice are always better served through transparency — the public needs being made privy to the course these trials take.

To protect the judicial officers, witnesses and prosecutors, names in the trial record can always be redacted. Similarly, where operational details may need to be protected, the record of the trial can be adjusted before releasing it to the public.

Simply naming individuals convicted and giving the barest details of the crimes they are accused of is not enough.

The state is seeking to take the lives of individuals in the name of the public at large — surely, at the very least, the public deserves to know details of the evidence presented and how the trials are conducted.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2015

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Comments (14) Closed

Syed Ahmed, Canada Aug 15, 2015 06:54am

You area advocating that the military courts do not give fair trial. Do you mean the act of terrorists in killing innocent children, men and women is fair? How peaceful was Karachi and other parts of Pakistan on August, 14. Don't you like it. Why sympathies with the terrorists. Genhu ke saath ghun bhi pis jata hai – it is normal.

sh.jamil Aug 15, 2015 09:20am

We are living in abnormal circumstances and therefore we have to deal with it accordingly.The insinuation that military courts trials are not fair is not a fair comment.

Abdullah Malik Aug 15, 2015 09:39am

The people of Pakistan have more trust on military courts than our normal judicial system it is quite evident by the recent demands of sending the Kasur Children case to military courts, How many terrorists were punished by our judicial system? Justice delayed is justice denied, its time that we quit whining about the military courts and fully support them.

M. Siddique Aug 15, 2015 10:58am

@sh.jamil, Since we live in unusual circumstances, we can forgo the requirements of justice? What kind of thinking is this? Stooping low at the level of terrorists' is a dangerous scenario for the country and the justice.

imran Aug 15, 2015 12:38pm

so what you want \? witness protection? in pakistan? deletion of sensitive material before release to public? are you serious, little money can give you any record what soever. Make sense, as a leading daily of Pakistan, fulfill your duty to this nation.

Amused Aug 15, 2015 02:25pm

Military courts are fair. The government/AGP presented their arguments to the Supreme Court for months --- and only after the SC was satisfied with the system, including the right to appeal, was the green light given.

Analytic Aug 15, 2015 03:40pm

In my opinion, military courts can give speedy justice through fair trials, which our civil judicial system is uncapable of. Your concern is not grounded in facts, rather it seems like an deliberate insinuation.

mike Aug 15, 2015 03:48pm

@M. Siddique it's not stooping's giving them what they deserve which normal courts have consistently failed. Admission of preposterous ghazi "murder" case against former president while at the same time releasing the main culprit of lal masjid, who today openly patronizes Isis is a case in point.

Tahir Aug 15, 2015 04:01pm

I think there is some basic judicial process that requires to be followed in giving a death sentence to a person. There must be qualified and experienced judges who have enough experience of judicial process. There should be fair and independent appeal process. Justice should be trasparent and equal for all. There is a lot of support for the new military courts now but apart from quickly implementing the wishes of people I have serious doubts that they can deliver any justice at all.

Juliana Fitzwater Aug 15, 2015 04:08pm

@Syed Ahmed, Canada Hope all is well in Canada. The editorial is advocating the age-old justice principle that it should also be seen by all and sundry that justice is being carried out with fairness. India waited for several years and completed all legal formalities before Ajmal Kasab was hanged despite crystal clear evidence available against him. This is justice - this is democracy and this is upholding of human rights

abdul rehman Aug 15, 2015 05:22pm

Why sympathise with terrorists? And why assume that Military courts are unfair? Military courts are the need of the hour. We should hand these terrorists swift sentences if we want to get rid of terrorism

abdul rehman Aug 15, 2015 05:28pm

@Juliana Fitzwater Justice does not have to be delayed for years to make sure it is fair. Justice system in South Asian countries is notorious for being slow and ineffective, sometimes taking decades for the process to be completed. Justice delayed is justice denied

S. Haider Aug 15, 2015 06:31pm

I support this Editorial. Why? 1. It is not against the work of Military Courts. 2. The Editorial is demanding more transparency. This is o.k., as the verdicts are spoken in the name of the people of Pakistan. And the people should know some necessary details, simultaneously protecting the judges, prosecutors and the witnesses in the Military Courts. 3. The Editorial is emphasizing the right of the convicted to appeal against the verdict of the Military Courts in the High Courts and in the Supreme Court. I guess, it would be done on a regular basis in the future. The Supreme Court has demanded this in its judgment on the establishment of the Military Courts. The Military Courts are in a phase of learning process. We should give them some time and show some patience.

ravi vancouver Aug 16, 2015 01:01am

Most of comments are favorable to the military courts. It is understandable as Pakistanis are more comfortable to military rules. But it also shows there is more inclination toward dictatorship rule rather than with democracy among Pakistani public.