As President Mamnoon Hussain signed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and the Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015 into law on Wednesday, officials said cases of nearly 3,400 suspected terrorists are likely to be sent for trial to military courts which will start functioning on January 21.
“Cases of around 3,000 suspected ‘jet black terrorists’ arrested during the military operations in Swat, South and North Waziristan agencies and 300 to 400 terror suspects being tried at anti-terrorism courts in the provinces will be sent to the military courts,” a senior government functionary told The Express Tribune.
Provincial home departments after vetting suspected terrorists will send their cases to the interior ministry – the final authority to decide whether a case will be sent to a military court or the courts established under the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA), said the official who declined to give his name. “The military courts that will operate under the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Branch of the Pakistan Army will most likely start working after two weeks,” he added.
Meanwhile, officials engaged with the legal process said the provincial apex committees comprising both military and civilian officials have started sending cases of suspected terrorists to the interior ministry. The Punjab home department has sent cases of some 24 high-profile terrorists to the interior ministry, which had also received 10 cases from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa this week, said another official.
“The Sindh home department has reviewed 171 cases of suspected terrorists being tried in ATCs which will be sent to the interior ministry soon but the authorities in Balochistan have yet to finalise cases for trial in the military courts,” he said.
He said the provinces have been reporting to the interior ministry on this issue on a daily basis since the government formed the apex committees with coordination of the military. The provinces have been directed to expedite the process of finalising the cases being tried in ATCs or PPA courts, he added.
“A special meeting of the Punjab apex committee will be held soon where Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as well as heads of the law-enforcement agencies will discuss this issue,” he added
Meanwhile, a senior army official told The Express Tribune that the JAG Branch will send cases of ‘jet black terrorists’ to the formation commander, who will constitute the military courts. “A military court is usually headed by a colonel and two majors assist him while a law officer of the JAG advises the court,” he added. He said there is no specific number for proposed military courts yet. “But, yes, on the JAG recommendations these courts will be formed in no time.”
A former law officer at military courts, Col (retd) Inam-ur-Raheem, said if a military court awards the death penalty to an accused then his/her case is sent to the chief of the army staff for confirmation. The prisoner can challenge his/her death sentence in an appellate court usually headed by a brigadier or a major general. “If his appeal is rejected, then the accused can file a mercy petition with the president of Pakistan,” he added.
Under Clause 24 of the Army Act, 1952, any accused (armed person and civilian) enjoys the right to defence, as Article 10 of the Constitution gives the right to defence to any citizen of Pakistan, he said.
A senior official of the ministry of law and justice said that the cases of only ‘jet black terrorists’ will be sent to the military courts while other cases will be forwarded to the PPA courts. “The number of PPA courts will be enhanced to 22 – three courts have already been notified while notification of another two will be issued soon,” he said.
Senior lawyer Ali Zafar said the military courts will be special courts or tribunals to try specific criminal accused of specific offences. Accordingly, any counsel entitled to appear before any court in the country would similarly have the licence to appear before a military court, he said.
Pakistan had experimented with military courts in 1996 – when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in power – but its apex court had subsequently declared the law to be unconstitutional, he recalled.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2015.