A Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court (ATC) directed the superintendent of the garrison city’s Adiala Jail on Monday to hand over eights suspects arrested in connection with vandalism at various locations — including military installations — during May 9 protests to the military for trial.

The court’s directives were issued in two separate orders, copies of which are available with Dawn.com, following the submission of applications by military Commanding Officers Farhan Nazir Qureshi and Muhammad Yasir Nawaz Cheema, each seeking the custody of four suspects detained at Adiala Jail in cases registered on May 9.

According to the orders, Qureshi has sought the custody of suspects nominated in a case registered at Civil Lines police station and Cheema has asked for the custody of suspects booked in a case registered at RA Bazar police station.

The orders said the suspects’ custody was sought on grounds that they were “found guilty of offences under Sections 3, 7 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act, 1952 [sic] read with Section2(1)(d) of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, [which are] exclusively triable by military court”.

The deputy prosecutor general did not raise any objections to the applications and forwarded the request for appropriate orders, the court observed.

Citing two previous cases, the court accepted the commanding officers’ request under 549(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, read with Rule 7(f) of the Criminal Procedure (Military Offenders) Rules, 1970.

“Superintendent Jail, Adiala, Rawalpindi is directed to hand over the custody of the above said accused person[s] to the commanding officer for further proceedings in accordance with law,” both orders read.

Last week, a Lahore ATC also sanctioned the handing over of 16 suspects to the military for trial, particularly in connection with vandalism at the Lahore Corps Commander’s residence.

A day later, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had announced that 33 suspects — 19 in Punjab and 14 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — had been handed over to the military until then, following attacks on army installations during protests on May 9.

What led to civilians’ military trial?

Countrywide protests had erupted on May 9 after the paramilitary Rangers whisked away PTI Chairman Imran Khan from the Islamabad High Court in a corruption case.

While the protests were underway, social media was flooded with footage of rioting and vandalism at various spots, including the Lahore Corps Commander’s residence and General Headquarters, the army’s head of office in Rawalpindi.

Subsequently, the army termed the day a “dark chapter” and announced around a week after the incidents its intent to try the rioters under relevant laws, including two military laws — the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.

The decision was endorsed by the National Security Committee — the country’s principal decision-making forum on foreign policy and national security — a day later amid opposition by rights organisations and activists.

The PTI has also approached the Supreme Court against the federal government’s decision to prosecute civilians under the Army Act while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif clarified earlier this month that only those accused of vandalising civilian infrastructures would be tried under the anti-terrorism law while those accused of vandalising military property would be put on trial under military laws.

Meanwhile rights organisations have been persistent in their call for not trying civilians in military court and after the Lahore ATC approved handing over of 16 suspects to the army last week, the Amnesty International had demanded the immediate reversal of the decision.

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