PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing into around 300 petitions against the conviction of suspected militants by military courts to May 12, observing that it will no more delay the disposal of these cases over any government excuse.

A bench consisting of Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mohammad Nasir Mehfooz also allowed the counsel for convicts to formally seek the suspension of sentences and the release of their clients on bail.

The development comes during an in-camera hearing into around 300 petitions of the convicts or their close family members for setting aside their sentences and ordering their release.

Advocate general Shumail Ahmad Butt appeared for the provincial government, while additional attorney general Qazi Babar Irshad and Aamir Jawed represented the federal government, including the law and defence ministries.

The counsel requested the court to adjourn hearing saying appeals filed by the government against the high court’s judgments in military court cases have been pending with the Supreme Court.

Observes it’ll no more delay disposal of petitions

According to them, different questions have been raised in those appeals and it will be appropriate for the high court to adjourn hearing until the apex court gives its findings on those points.

The bench observed that the petitions had been pending decision for many months due to delay on part of the government, so it would decide them one way or the other.

It added that if the government had any grievance against the order, it could move the Supreme Court for relief.

Lawyers Shabbir Hussain Gigyani, Naqeebullah Takkar, Arif Jan, Ziaur Rehman Tajik, Danyal Asad Chamkani, Barrister Amirullah Chamkani, Naveed Akhtar and Sajeed Afridi represented the petitioners.

The court directed lawyers that they could file bail petitions for their respective clients.

The petitions have been filed against the military court convictions including award of death penalties to suspected militants from time to time in scores of cases of terrorism.

The court has already granted interim relief to the convicts and stayed their execution on different dates. In Nov last year, the court had rejected the plea of the federal government to form a larger bench for hearing petitions.

The order was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government. Decision on it has been pending.

Most of these petitioners have claimed that convicts had been held by security forces for many years and that they learned about their conviction by military courts through media reports.

Some petitioners claimed that they learned about the presence of their relatives in internment centres after prolonged disappearance, while the media later reported the award of death sentence to them by military courts.

They said they were convicted without any evidence and on basis of so-called confessional statements which were recorded contrary to provisions of law. Their counsels stated that while the convicts had remained in custody of security forces their so-called confessions were recorded with delay of many years.

A high court bench headed by Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth had accepted 75 other petitions of military court convicts on Oct 18, 2018, setting aside their conviction and sentences mostly death penalty.

The Supreme Court had suspended the judgment on the government’s plea. The main appeals of the government continue to be pending with the court.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020