ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday modified its Dec 13 injunction by allowing military authorities to release 15 to 20 people, accused of being involved in the May 9 violence, before Eidul Fitr.

Headed by Justice Aminud Din Khan, a five-judge SC bench directed Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan to furnish a list of individuals who would be released before Eid. The list should also identify those who have been awarded lesser punishment, or convicted for up to three years.

On Dec 13, the apex court by a majority of five to one had suspended the operation of its Oct 23 judgement that had nullified the trial of civilians involved in the May 9 violence and issued a direction that military courts can commence trials, but they will not convict or acquit any suspect until the government-instituted intra-court appeals (ICAs) are disposed of.

The AGP informed the SC that as per instructions, 15 to 20 persons who fall within the first category could be released before Eid, falling on April 9 or 10. However, any decision to release these individuals will be subject to the confirmation of sentence by higher authorities i.e. the chief of the army staff.

AGP says sentences first need to be confirmed by army chief; Justice Waheed wonders why they can’t suspend sentences awarded by military courts

He explained that sentences awarded by military courts could be remitted and these individuals could go home before Eid.

The AGP said the number of the accused had risen to 105, since two more had been added to the list.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar observed that there were only a few days to go before Eid, adding that the entire process should be completed before the festivities begin.

Justice Mazhar also highlighted the need for developing a mechanism for accused falling in other categories.

The AGP said he would place the names of the accused before the court after he received the court order, adding that they may be given remissions.

Senior counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, one of the petitioners, appreciated that the court had evolved a humane middle way so that the accused could meet their near and dear ones before Eid.

However, he said the number of the accused to be freed was quite low, and contended that their sentences would have to be confirmed by a higher authority, which is not party to the proceedings of the trial court.

During the proceedings, Justice Shahid Waheed asked why the court should not suspend the sentence awarded by military courts or grant bail if the trial was still going on and sentence has not been passed.

He also wondered why the court should not invoke Article 187 of the Constitution and allow Sec­tion 497 of CrPC, which allows grant of bail to even those who were arrested on non-bailable offences.

The AGP, however, said that there was no provision of bail in the Pakistan Army Act.

On Thursday, the court also allowed the withdrawal of ICAs moved on behalf of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2024

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