PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench has sought replies from federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments in around 70 writ petitions of detainees in different internment centres, asking them to give their point of view on the status of the detainees and laws dealing with internment centres after the merger of tribal areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The bench of PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mussarat Hilali fixed April 23 for next hearing of the petitions, directing the provincial advocate general and an additional attorney general to submit detailed comments on behalf of the two governments to explain the situation emerging after the passage of the Constitution (Twenty-Fifth Amendment) Act, 2018, through which erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) were merged into the province.

Most of the petitioners raised almost identical points, claiming that the detainees were taken into custody many years ago by security forces and were subsequently shifted to notified internment centres set up under the two regulations -- Action (in aid of civil power) Regulation, 2011 for Fata and Pata.

PHC fixes April 23 for next hearing of about 70 identical petitions

They claimed that the detainees had been interned for many years without any trial, which was illegal and unconstitutional. They claimed that the detainees had mostly been not informed about their crimes.

In one of the petitions filed by Abdullah, a resident of Mohmand tribal district, his counsel Azra Suleman told the court that her client’s close relative Tayyab Khan was taken into custody by the security forces in 2014 after which he remained missing. She said that later on the detainee was shifted to an internment centre in 2015.

She stated that the authorities concerned alleged that the detainee was affiliated with a banned outfit. However, she added that despite lapse of five years neither his trial was started nor he was set free.

The counsel questioned the status of internment centres after the passage of the Constitution (Twenty-Fifth Amendment) Act arguing that once the tribal areas were merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the legal status of the regulations through which those centres were set up had become questionable.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Abdul Lateef Yousafzai stated that after the passage of the said constitutional amendment, tribal areas became part of the province. He said that the provincial assembly passed a law for giving protection to laws in practice in Pata including the Action (in aid of civil power) Regulation, 2011.

In this regard, he said, the government would submit a detailed reply for which time was needed.

An additional attorney general also stated that reply would be filed on behalf of the federal government.

It merits a mention that on June 23, 2011, the two regulations were promulgated. As hundreds of suspected militants were arrested in different military operations, especially in Swat, were kept in illegal detention for many years, therefore, to legalise those detentions these regulations were given retrospective effect from February 1, 2008.

The provincial home secretary had issued a notification on July 20, 2011, through which nine detention facilities, where hundreds of suspects were detained, were notified as internment centres in the province.

In similar manner another notification was issued by the additional chief secretary, Fata, on August 12, 2011, under which around 34 internment centres were notified in the erstwhile Fata. Through that notification all the forts of Frontier Corps and political lock-ups in the seven former tribal agencies were declared internment centres.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019

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