ISLAMABAD: Five noted members of civil society from different parts of the country asked the Supreme Court on Saturday to disallow trials of civilians accused under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 and the Official Secrets Act, 1923, in connection with the alleged offences of May 9 and 10.

Such investigations and subsequent trials, the petition pleaded, are also in violation of sections 2(d)(ii) and 59(4) of the army act read with sections 3, 3A, 7, and 9 of the secrets act.

The petition has been filed by senior counsel Faisal Siddiqi on behalf of executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) Karamat Ali, former Karachi Metropolitan Corporation administrator Fahim Zaman Khan, Aurat Foundation director Mahnaz Rahman, educationist Prof Dr A.H. Nayyar, and clinical psychologist and educationist Syed Zulfiqar Hussain Gilani.

According to the petitioners, the matter concerns public interest and they believe that the trial of civilians including political leaders and workers under the army act in an unprecedented manner is a matter of grave public importance.

It has named as respondents the federation of Pakistan, through secretaries of law and justice, interior, defence, chief secretaries of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

The petition asks the court to declare that the trial of civilian accused persons under the army act and secrets act violates Article 25 of the Constitution (equality of citizens) until and unless legal and reasonable guidelines were framed to structure the discretion not to arbitrarily try civilian accused persons under the army act instead of criminal courts of general and special jurisdiction and consequently.

It also urged the court to declare that trying civilian accused under the army act and secrets act in relation to alleged offences committed on May 9 and 10 was not in accordance with the law, at least until the right to a fair trial and due process, with a statutory right of appeal to an independent court is provided.

Similarly, all the trials of civilian accused persons under the army act and secrets act should be transferred to appropriate criminal courts of general and special jurisdiction like under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 and by a magistrate under Section 13 of the secrets act for trials in compliance with the fair trial and due process rights guaranteed under the constitution and law.

Permanent bar

The petition also requested the apex court to permanently restrain the respondents from conducting any trial of civilian accused persons under the army act and secrets act in relation to May 9 and 10 offences.

It pleaded before the court to declare that federal government and the interior ministry’s notifications to call the armed forces to act in aid of civil power or their deployment without specifying justifiable reasons, geographical qualifications, and time boundedness, were in violation of Article 245 of the constitution and ATA’s Section 4.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2023

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