ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has stayed execution of four terrorists, including two facilitators of the December 2014 carnage at Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS), condemned to death by military courts.
The military courts concluded that Taj Muhammad and Aliur Rehman had facilitated the Taliban rampage at the APS in which over 142 people, mostly schoolchildren, were killed.
Similarly, Qari Zubair was convicted for his involvement in a blast at a mosque in Nowshehra while Imran was sentenced to death for firing at a security checkpoint in Bajaur Agency that had killed eight people including six army soldiers.
The convicts challenged the military court decision in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) which upheld their conviction on December 9, 2015. Subsequently, the convicts challenged the PHC ruling in the Supreme Court.
A two-judge bench, comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, took up the appeals on Tuesday. The bench stayed the executions and issued notices to attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) and the judge advocate general (JAG) branch. It also directed the SC office to fix the case before a three-judge bench on February 16.
The bench asked the AGP to submit a report on the status of the convicts’ appeals and supply the unsigned copy of the military court judgments, while not disclosing names and designations of the officials who handed down the sentence.
Justice Isa observed the judgment on the 21st constitutional amendment had left a narrow window open to allow examination of a military court verdict by the superior courts, if the convict suffered from issues like qorum non judice, fair trial and mala fide.
He asked the counsels whether they filed the appeals against their conviction before the competent forum, which is the appellate court under the Army Act 1952. Latif Afridi, the counsel for two of the convicts, said they had filed the appeal but were unaware of its fate.
Afridi told the bench that the military court had not supplied copies of the judgment to the families of the convicts.
Justice Dost Muhammad, who is heading the bench, remarked that the at least relatives of the convicts should know the basis for conviction so that they could attack it in their appeals.
Afridi said the families were not allowed to meet the convicts, adding that according to the Pakistan Prison Rules relatives could meet prisoners in the jail.
Interestingly, both Justice Dost and Justice Isa had opposed the establishment of military courts in the country, while issuing dissenting notes in the 21st constitutional amendment case on August 5, 2015.
Earlier, another two-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmad, suspended on December 7, 2015 a military court ruling in which Qari Zahir Gul and Haider Ali had been convicted of terrorist acts and condemned to death. The matter was also referred to the chief justice with a recommendation for constitution of a larger bench but the case has not been listed for hearing thus far.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2016.