ISLAMABAD, Nov 10: The government on Saturday amended the Army Act of 1952 to give wide-ranging powers to the Army to court-martial civilians.

Under the amended act, the Army can now try civilians on charges ranging from treason, sedition and attack on army personnel to “assaulting the president with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power” and “giving statements conducive to public mischief”.

The unamended Army Act, too, had a provision to hold court martial of civilians but only when at least one of the accused belonged to the armed forces.

In recent years, several members of the extremist Islamic groups have been tried and sentenced by different field court martial, but in all these cases members of the armed forces were also involved.Many of these cases related to abortive attempts on General Pervez Musharraf’s life.

Although not stated in clear terms, one of the underlined reasons for the amendment to the Army Act is said to be the inability of the existing anti-terrorism courts to hold proper or speedy trials of the people involved in acts of terrorism or fanning religious or other brands of armed militancy in the country.

“For quite some time some amendments were being considered, but the proposed amendment has now been notified,” Attorney-General Malik Mohammad Qayyum told Dawn on Saturday from Lahore.

The amendment, he said, had been made only in Section 2 (1-d) of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, by adding some more offences of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and allowing the military courts to try and convict the civilians.

The amendment has been made through an ordinance that will come into force at once and will be deemed to have taken effect from Jan 2003.

Under the amendment, a sub-clause (iia) will be inserted into the sub-clause (ii) which says: “Any offence, if committed in relation to defence or security of Pakistan or any part thereof or Armed Forces of Pakistan, punishable under the Explosive Substance Act, 1908 (VI of 1908), prejudicial conduct under the Security of Pakistan Act, 1952 (XXXV of 1952), the Pakistan Arms Ordinance, 1965 (W.P.Ord. XX of 1965), the Prevention of Anti-national Activities Act, 1974 (VII of 1974) or Anti-terrorism Act, 1997 (XXVII of 1997), Sections 109 (punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment), 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public, or by more than ten persons), 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting waging of war against Pakistan), 121A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable by Section 121), 122 (collecting arms, etc., with intention of waging war against Pakistan), 123 (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war), 123A (condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty), 124 (assaulting president, governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power), 124A (sedition), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 302 (punishment of Qatl-i-amd), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 505 (statement conducive to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code or attempt to commit any of the said offences.”

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 89 of the Constitution read with proclamation of emergency of the of third day of November 2007 and the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) No 1 of 2007, the president is pleased to make and promulgate the ordinance,” the government notification said.