ISLAMABAD: A group of civil society activists approached the Supreme Court on Thursday to become interveners and help the court better adjudicate on the matter of civilians’ military trials against the backdrop of May 9 acts of violence and arson.
The request from the activists comes as a six-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, is set to resume hearing challenges to the trial of civilians by military courts on Aug 1.
On that day, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan would also apprise the apex court after seeking instructions from the government about the provision of appeal against the sentence to be awarded by military courts to those found guilty of May 9 violence.
In their application, the activists argued that the issue of civilians’ trials under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 and the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1923 was a matter of public interest since it would have far-reaching implications for society.
Insist civilians’ trials under army, secrets laws ‘a matter of public interest’
They argued that the military court trials would violate the fundamental rights of civilians by depriving them of the right to a fair trial, the right to legal representation and the right to due process.
The activists argued that it was necessary to make these interveners a proper party since several FIRs — for instance, FIR No. 96 of 2023 registered at Lahore’s Sarwar Road police station — were initiated in relation to the violent political protests in May for offences under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
The applicant interveners would assist the Supreme Court in declaring that civilians’ trials under the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act in relation to the alleged criminal acts committed on May 9 and 10 violated Section 2(d) and 59(4) of the PAA and Sections 3, 3A, 7, and 9 of the OSA.
Consequently, all such investigations and trials of civilians accused under both acts and all subsequent actions were void from the beginning and had no legal effect, they said.
The activists argued that unless the interveners were not made a party to the present petition, the rights of citizens being tried by the military courts would be adversely affected.
The application has been filed through senior counsel Faisal Siddiqi on behalf of feminist activist Nighat Said Khan; former UN special rapporteur for cultural rights Farida Shaheed; founding member of the Joint Action Committee Lahore Neelam Hussain; human rights activist Maryam Hussain; and Maheen Pracha, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023