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.
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