Ruckus in Senate over resolution urging SC to ‘reconsider’ verdict on civilians’ military trials

Published November 17, 2023
This image shows Senators standing at their seats as a ruckus ensued in the upper house of Parliament on Friday over a resolution backing the military trials of civilians. — DawnNewsTV
This image shows Senators standing at their seats as a ruckus ensued in the upper house of Parliament on Friday over a resolution backing the military trials of civilians. — DawnNewsTV

The upper house of Parliament saw much commotion in its session on Friday after senators protested the passage of a resolution urging the Supreme Court to “reconsider” its verdict on the military trials of civilians.

The resolution was passed on Monday in the presence of less than a dozen senators. It had urged the top court to “reconsider” its verdict of declaring “unconstitutional” the military trial of civilians for their alleged role in attacks on army installations on May 9.

The resolution was not part of the agenda issued before Monday’s session and was tabled when a majority of members were absent. It was read out by independent Senator Dilawar Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and supported only by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) senators.

Only two senators — Raza Rabbani of the PPP and Mushtaq Ahmed of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) — had protested against the hasty passage of the resolution, but Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani had ignored their protests.

The two-page resolution had termed the SC verdict “an attempt to rewrite the law” and an encroachment of the parliament’s legislative authority.

The day after the passage of the resolution, mem­bers belonging to the country’s mainstream political parties had lodged a strong protest in the Senate against its hasty passage and called for its immediate withdrawal.

Due to the strong protest by the senators and lack of quorum, Deputy Chairman Mirza Muhammad Afridi had adjourned the proceedings till Friday within minutes and without taking up any agenda item.

Similar scenes were witnessed when today’s session began. After the recitation of the Holy Quran and as the Senate chairman tried to begin the the question hour session, senators refused to sit on their seats and chanted slogans against the resolution.

“No military courts, no military courts,” they chanted.

JI’s Senator Ahmed equated the resolution to a “drone attack” and an “attack on democracy”. He further said that the passage of the resolution had tainted the Senate.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Senator Kamran Murtaza termed said that senators had done something “very bad” by passing the resolution. PML-N Senator Saadia Abbasi said: “We will not allow the House to proceed until we talk about the resolution passed by the Senate.”

PTI Senator Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur urged the Senate chairman to let parliamentarians discuss the resolution. However, he did not let anyone speak and tried to move the session along.

“Respect the House and sit down […] The entire House cannot talk at the same time. This is not the way,” Sanjrani said as senators continued to protest.

The commotion caused by the senators forced Sanjrani to adjourn the session till 3pm on November 20 (Monday).

The resolution

The resolution passed by the Senate on Monday said that “prima facie an attempt has been made to rewrite the law by impinging upon the legislative authority of Parliament”.

It reiterated that the trial of those accused of violence against the armed forces under the Army Act was an “appropriate and proportional response in line with Pakistan’s existing constitutional framework and statutory regime”.

“Within the country’s constitutional framework, the trial of individuals accused of anti-state vandalism and violence under the Army Act serves as a deterrent against such acts,” it said.

The resolution also expressed solidarity with the families of martyrs, which it said had “expressed feelings of insecurity and treachery” due to the court’s decision.

“Their concern that absence of military court trial is likely to encourage or embolden those responsible for acts of terrorism due to [a] lack of stringent justice in regular courts is fully endorsed,” the resolution said.

It noted that the SC verdict “annuls the sacrifices made by martyrs” in combatting terrorism.

“Military courts have played a significant role in addressing terrorism by ensuring that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice. However, this judgment, while abandoning the spirit of martyrdom, grants lenient option to terrorists, anti-state actors, foreign agents, and spies to be tried in normal courts,” the resolution said.

The resolution said the SC had not taken into consideration “existing procedures which make it abundantly clear that the sentences given by military courts are not arbitrary and are conducted following due process and formalities”.

It added that the existence of an appeal process against the verdicts issued by military courts was also overlooked. “The provisions of the Army Act and underlying procedures ensure that the right to a fair trial under Article 10-A of the Constitution is not violated,” it said.

The resolution reaffirmed that May 9 — when violence broke out across the country following the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan — would be remembered as a “dark day in the history of the country”. It also condemned the “anti-state acts” committed against the armed forces, “which the enemies of Pakistan cannot even dare to think of committing”.

“The culprits of May 9, who blatantly attacked defence installations and disgracefully dismantled memorials of martyrs deserve no empathy or leniency, rather they should be tried in military courts and stringent punishments [should] be given to make them an example for internal and external enemies [of] Pakistan by creating deterrence and upholding the supremacy of state,” the resolution said.

It said that Section 2(1)(d) was added to the Army Act in 1967, and civilians had been tried in military courts in the past under the provision while sentences were also carried out.

It added that a previous SC verdict had upheld trials under the Army Act by a majority. On the other hand, the bench which announced the recent verdict was “not in unanimity as opposed to previous benches which upheld trials of civilians under the Army Act, hence the decision is legally flawed and should not be implemented unless it is considered by a larger bench”, the resolution said.

It said that the “invalidation of the jurisdiction of army courts is likely to facilitate vandals and abettors of terrorism and anti-state activities.”

“The Senate of Pakistan calls upon the apex court to reconsider its decision, urging alignment with the national security paradigm and [the] sacrifices of the martyrs in order to address the concerns raised regarding the ramifications of the judgement on the security and stability of the nation,” the resolution said.

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