May 9 rioters should be dealt with severely, but not under army laws: PPP’s Raza Rabbani

Published June 13, 2023
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani addresses the Senate on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani addresses the Senate on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani said on Tuesday that while it was important that those involved in May 9 riots be brought to justice, trying civilians under army laws should be avoided as it would have “far-reaching repercussions for the state”.

The PPP stalwart shared his view while addressing a Senate session where he also linked economic stability to political stability.

“Today, we are experiencing the fallouts of the results of a failed rebellion against the state. The political instability today is giving rise to economic instability,” he said before shifting his focus to the events of May 9, when countrywide protests had erupted following the arrest of PTI chief Imran Khan.

While the protests were underway, social media was flooded with footage of rioting and vandalism at various spots, including military installations.

Subsequently, the government decided to try the suspects of vandalism at military installations under army laws, particularly the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.

Speaking on the matter today, Rabbani said the strictest of action should be taken against those who attacked military installations on May 9.

Because otherwise, “you will be heading towards another Beer House Putsch of Adolf Hitler” — a reference to a failed attempt at a coup by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1923.

“So … the state must act sternly, and the state must enforce its writ. But there is a caveat to that,” he said, stressing that this action should be taken within the rule of law.

‘Don’t create monsters, don’t create heroes of vandals’

Moreover, he said “let political forces take the course that history has destined for them”.

“By taking actions, don’t create monsters and don’t create heroes of vandals. If you will take such measures, you will make heroes out of those who perpetrated terrorism and get them sympathy votes,” he added.

Rabbani said the “masterminds” of May 9 should also be taken to task.

“But there is a caveat to this as well. And that is that the trial of civilians under the Army Act and Official Secrets Act should be avoided.

“This is inappropriate. It will have its own far-reaching repercussions for the state,” he warned.

The senator said while these military laws were not outside the ambit of the Constitution, “I am sad that the National Assembly passed a resolution [endorsing] military trials” of May 9 suspects. “This doesn’t suit Parliament.”

He then briefly outlined a plan for the way forward. “In my opinion, the way forward is the immediate return to constitutionalism,” he said.

“Today, the Constitution exists … but the judiciary has its own interpretation of it, Parliament its own and the executive its own,” the senator said.

He further stated, “We have done these experiments before and they were unsuccessful. These experiments gave birth to Frankensteins and monsters.

“Don’t repeat these experiments. Stop creating test-tube political parties.”

‘Elections should be held within time stipulated in Constitution’

Rabbani also called for an end to political engineering and asserted that elections should be held on time.

“When the term of the National Assembly ends, the elections should be held within the time stipulated in the Constitution.”

Moreover, following the completion of the term of the National Assembly, the caretaker government should not remain for a elongated period, the senator stressed.

“This will be very dangerous for the federation. And let history not say that the Senate did not warn that it will have very dangerous consequences.”

Here, he also mentioned that the caretaker government should not finalise any deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Lastly, the senator stressed the need to abide by the trichotomy of power as stated in the Constitution.

“Every institution should play its role within its constitutional jurisdiction,” he empahsised, adding that “until there is supremacy of the rule of law, there cannot be economic stability”.

What led to military trials?

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

While the protests were under way, public and private properties, including military installations, were attacked and vandalised.

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 last 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.

So far, an Lahore anti-terrorism court has sanctioned the handing over of 16 May 9 suspects to the military and a Rawalpindi court has approved the handing over of another eight suspects.

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