ISLAMABAD: Instead of sending cases of juvenile terrorism suspects, detained at internment centres, to military courts, the federal government has asked for proof of their age before making the final decision.
The government’s interest in determining the age of the suspects is a result of a recent Peshawar High Court (PHC) decision, in which the death sentence awarded to juvenile Haider Ali by a military court was suspended.
The order against Ali’s conviction was issued by a bench consisting of Justice Mussarat Hilali and Justice Younas Taheem, on the petition of the accused’s mother, Bacha Laiga.
Dawn has learnt that following the PHC order, the interior ministry sent back 10 cases to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa apex committee and asked them to provide documentation from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), as well as the computerised national identity cards (CNICs) of the suspects.
Sources said that cases that were sent back to the apex committee included those in which suspects had been accused of obtaining terrorist training in Fata and attacking the army’s installations.
These cases had been marked for military courts, but once the PHC’s orders came, the federal government thought it best to determine the age of the suspects in order to avoid litigation once the military court delivered a verdict.
Govt exercising caution following PHC order striking down conviction of juvenile terror suspect
In the wake of the PHC stay order, the government decided to examine all cases being forwarded to military courts and found 10 where there were ambiguities regarding the age of the accused.
Military circles, on the other hand, were of the view that excluding juveniles from military courts’ proceedings may prove counter-productive.
According to an officer, terrorists preferred to recruit young boys because they were easy to brainwash.
“Most of the attackers who carried out suicide attacks were juveniles,” he said, adding that the majority of those who were arrested before they were able to carry out an attack were also younger than 18 years.
This is not to say that all attackers are young. The military officer pointed out that the suicide attack carried out on the Special Services Group (SSG) Officers Mess at Tarbela, shortly after the Lal Masjid operation, was carried out by a 52-year-old man. At least 15 security personnel died in the attack.
A senior military official dealing with these cases told Dawn that terrorist attacks on targets such as the Bannu and D.I. Khan jails were carried out by hundreds of people, including several individuals who were under the age of 18.
The matter in which the PHC had suspended the military court verdict was similar: the convict, Ali, was with a group of terrorists who had attacked a military camp in Malakand, causing three deaths.
Talking about the age verification of the suspects, he said that the details of the suspects detained at the internment centres would be shared with Nadra and an officer not below the rank of section officer would issue a certificate about the age of the accused.
“If these juveniles are not tried in military courts and are referred to civilian courts, then they may be released, as has happened in the past when civilian courts acquitted hundreds of the suspects who later rejoined their terrorist outfits.”
He suggested that instead of sending their cases to civilian courts, the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) be amended further to bring juveniles into the ambit of military courts. As it is, he argued, the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had amended the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) to bring juveniles under the ambit of the ATA.
At least two men: Aitzaz Shah, accused of abetting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; and Hameedullah, the accused in the August 2008 attack on the Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF) in Wah Cantt, where 70 people were killed and 100 injured, were both juveniles. However, they were tried in anti-terrorism courts.
A former official of the army’s legal branch, retired Lt-Col Inamur Rahim, said that the PAA was designed to deal with disciplinary matters related to military personnel.
He said that since there was no concept of juveniles within the army, therefore there was no clause in the PAA that related to juvenile suspects.
The 21st amendment did not permit court martial of juveniles, he further said.
According to him, the juvenile suspects should be tried by sessions courts under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000.
Under the JJSO, the trial of juveniles cannot be conducted in ordinary courts and juvenile accused cannot be awarded capital punishment.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2015