PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court (PHC) bench on Tuesday set aside convictions of around 200 suspected militants by military courts and ordered the relevant authorities to set them free if not required in any other case.
Most of these convicts were either sentenced to death or different prison terms including life sentence.
The PHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mohammad Naeem Anwar pronounced a short order after completion of arguments by all parties in the cases.
A detailed judgement will be released later.
The court had accepted around 200 petitions filed by the convicts or their close family members from time to time, challenging their respective convictions by military courts in cases of terrorism and seeking their release.
The bench, however, adjourned hearing of around 100 petitions wherein the Ministry of Defence has yet to produce the relevant record.
Issues short order for release of suspects
The court had already granted interim relief to the convicts and stayed their executions on different dates.
The cases continued to linger on for around 20 months during which the government had frequently been challenging different orders of the high court before the Supreme Court.
Recently, the government requested the apex court to stay the PHC proceedings till the Supreme Court decision on appeals filed against the earlier judgments of the high court. However, the Supreme Court turned down the government request, allowing the PHC to continue with the hearing of the petitions.
A number of lawyers appeared for the petitioners, including Shabbir Hussain Gigyani, Arif Jan, Ali Gohar Durrani, Naqeebullah Takkar, Ziaur Rehman Tajik, Danyal Asad Chamkani, Barrister Amirullah Chamkani, Naveed Akhtar and Sajeed Afridi.
Additional Attorney General for Pakistan Qazi Babar Irshad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Shumail Ahmad Butt represented the federal and provincial governments, respectively.
The counsel for the petitioners had already submitted written arguments in accordance with an earlier court order.
Earlier on Oct 18, 2018, the PHC accepted 75 other writ petitions of military court convicts and had set aside their convictions and sentences, mostly including death penalties.
The SC on appeals later filed by the government suspended the said PHC judgement. The main appeals of the government had still been pending before the apex court.
During the course of hearing, the SC bench observed that the previous judgement of the PHC had been recognised by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav case after the federation of Pakistan had relied on that judgement.
In most of the cases, the counsel for the petitioners contended that their respective clients were taken into custody many years ago and kept incommunicado. They argued that after the convicts had remained missing for many years, their relatives came to know about their convictions through media reports.
Some of them claimed that they had been reported among missing persons before their family members came to know about their presence in internment centres later about their death sentence by military courts.
The petitioners contended that they were convicted without any evidence and on the basis of so-called confessional statements which were recorded contrary to provisions of law. Their counsel stated that while the convicts had remained in custody of security forces, their so-called confessions were recorded with delay of many years. They contended that malice on part of the government was clear in these cases, as none of the convicts were provided counsel of their choice and they were denied the right to a fair trial, which was contrary to Article 10-A of the Constitution.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2020*