Pakistan: Secret military trials to continue

2015-08-05 19:31
A Pakistani activist of The Children's Rights Movement holds a placard as they take part in a protest in Islamabad. (Farooq Naeem, AFP)

A Pakistani activist of The Children's Rights Movement holds a placard as they take part in a protest in Islamabad. (Farooq Naeem, AFP)

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Islamabad - Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the use of secret military trials for terrorism suspects, in a move that the country's prime minister said would bolster a campaign against Islamist militants.

Activists and Pakistan's bar associations challenged the decision, arguing that the secret trials undermined the provision of justice.

The parliament established the military courts in February to try terrorism suspects after Taliban gunmen killed 136 children at a school in December.

Suspects at the trials are not allowed lawyers to represent them and the proceedings are not made public.

A 17-member bench of Supreme Court ruled that the courts were lawful and were set up to deal with an extraordinary situation, said Zafarullah Khan, a government legal advisor.

Some suspects have been convicted in the secret trials, but their sentences were not carried out because the legal status of the courts was under question.

"It is great verdict," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a speech to parliament.

"Today's decision will help us fight terrorism in a better way," he said.

The legal fraternity appeared divided, with some lawyers praising the latest ruling as appropriate to deal with the militants, while others said they would seek a review.

"This decision will allow a parallel judicial structure," said Kamran Murtaza, one of the country's top lawyers. "It is against the spirit of the constitution and justice system."

He said said bar associations would file another petition in the Supreme Court to review the decision.

Lawyer Ikram Chaudhry agreed, saying the lack of transparency would hurt the courts' claim to serve justice.

The military courts have so far heard around 100 cases and passed 27 judgments, the Law Ministry said, but no public information was made available about the trials or even where they took place.

"That's where the whole process is questionable," lawyer Chaudhry said.

But Barrister Syed Mohamed Zafar said he supported the need for "extraordinary decisions to deal with extraordinary circumstances".

"If we want tragedies like school massacres to not be repeated, we will have to have some compromises," he said, "and approving military courts is one of them." 

Read more on:    nawaz sharif  |  pakistan
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