KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) sought on Friday replies from the provincial advocate-general (AG) and prosecutor-general (PG) on the legal opinion regarding appeals challenging the death sentences awarded to five convicts by the military court in the Safoora Goth carnage and Sabeen Mahmud murder cases.
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto, sought such replies by a date to be later notified by the office.
A military court had awarded capital punishments in one of the cases to Saad Aziz alias Tin Tin, Tahir Hussain Minhas alias Sain, Asadur Rehman alias Malik, Mohammad Azhar Ishrat alias Majid and Hanif Nazir on May 12, 2016. An Islamic State-inspired group of youths had shot dead 45 members of the Ismaili community in the outskirts of Karachi in May, 2015.
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However, the court acquitted three others, former Fishermen Cooperative Society deputy director, Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, his younger brother Muhammad Hussain Siddiqui and Naeem Sajid, of charges of facilitating the massacre.
The remaining convicts Aziz, Minhas, Ishrat, Rehman and Nazir had filed appeals against the sentences awarded to them by the military court.
On Friday, a legal opinion sought by the court regarding the fate of the appeals was submitted to the bench.
The judges directed to provide copies of the same to the provincial AG and PG to go through the same and submit their replies. Hearing on the matter was adjourned to a date to be later notified by the office.
Filing appeals, Advocate Hashmat Habib argued that the appellants were tried before the military court, which was set up in Malir Cantonment under the Army Act, as part of Islamabad's National Action Plan.
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The appellants were kept at central prison where they were provided an appeal format to be filed before the Registrar Court of Appeals, Judge Advocate-General of the General Headquarters of the Army, said Advocate Habib.
He informed the judges that on August 15, 2016, the appellants were informed that their appeals had been rejected on July 25. They moved their appeals to the Lahore High Court, which on October 3, also turned it down on the matter of maintainability since the offence was committed and the trial conducted within the jurisdiction of the SHC.
Advocate Habib argued that the conviction judgment passed by the military court was not maintainable in the eyes of the law as the petitioners should not have been in custody of the military authorities and tried under the Pakistan Army Amendment Act or the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, which now stands expired.
He contended that the petitioners were illegally tried and that too in the absence of any counsel, which was a violation of Article 10 of the Constitution, as they were also not able to communicate during their trial and investigation. On these grounds, their conviction is liable to be set aside, he added.
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The lawyer claimed that the petitioners' right to fair trial under Article 10-A of the Constitution was violated and that the Supreme Court had also maintained in a case that an accused cannot be denied meeting their family under Note 7 that was added to Section 73 of the Pakistan Army Act.
The apex court had also sent back petitions of other convicts who had challenged their sentences by the military courts to the relevant high courts over the same concerns, said Habib. He pleaded that the court examine the proceedings of the trial in the military court, set aside the petitioners' sentences and acquit them.