Chief justice says those convicted by military courts have right to appeal their sentences.
The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed executions handed down by controversial new military courts set up in the wake of a Taliban massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
Lawmakers approved a change to the Constitution in January to establish military courts to deal with terrorism cases, prompting concern from lawyers and rights activists. The move came as part of government efforts to crack down on militants following the school slaughter in December which left more than 150 people dead—Pakistan’s bloodiest ever terror attack.
The Army announced the first verdicts and sentences from the new courts earlier this month. Six militants were condemned to death and another jailed for life, all on terrorism charges, though scant details of the offences and trials were given.
A 17-judge panel headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk suspended the executions on Thursday, after the Supreme Court Bar Association challenged the constitutional amendment that created the military courts.
Prominent rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, who filed a separate petition against the secrecy surrounding the military trials, said ongoing trials being heard by the new tribunals would continue. “The court has not suspended hearing and trials in other cases,” she told reporters. “We are against these kangaroo courts, we will challenge other trials if it is proven that these courts are against the basic human rights.”
The Supreme Court order said those convicted by military courts had the right to appeal and directed the attorney general to file a reply in the case by April 22.
Earlier Jahangir told the court that families of those convicted were not even told the trials were going on, and only learned about them through media reports.
Senior lawyer and retired Colonel Inam-ur-Rehman, who has defended cases before the military courts, hailed Thursday’s ruling as a “great achievement.”
“It shows that the judiciary is performing its role independently and no parallel judiciary can be allowed to work in the country,” he said. He said terrorists should be tried and if found guilty executed, but only through a free and fair trial.
Parliament has approved the use of the courts for two years, and cases are referred to them by provincial governments. But some have called for the trials to be more transparent.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on Wednesday condemned the military courts as “secret, opaque” and in violation of fair trial obligations.
“Pakistan’s new system of ‘military justice’ falls well short of domestic and international fair trial standards, flouts previous Supreme Court rulings, and goes against a regional and global trend of limiting rather than expanding military courts’ jurisdiction,” Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director, said in a statement.