“Trying civilians in military courts is lawful [in some cases] but 25 people faced military court trials when Imran Khan was the prime minister. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, therefore, has no moral high ground to oppose military trials now,” Rahiem said on Sunday.
He said military courts gave death sentences to three of these people while others were sentenced to 10-year to 14-year imprisonment for violating the Official Secret Act, 1923. He said neither the convicts were given a counsel of their choice nor were they allowed to present witnesses in their defence.
Rahiem said he, as counsel for these accused later, challenged all these 25 convictions in the Lahore High Court (LHC). The LHC suspended the death sentences and the cases are still pending. Human rights and political activist Idris Khattak was among these 25 people, he added.
He said Articles of a fair trial –9, 10, 10-A – should be followed even if the civil and military leaders have decided to hold the trial of the perpetrators of the May 9 attacks in the military courts under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 and the Official Secrets Act,1923.
Rahiem said Article 9, 10, 10-A deal with the security of persons, safeguards as to arrest and detention, and the right to fair trial. He said the decision to hold trials of civilians in military courts has already been challenged in the Supreme Court. “Let’s see what the SC finally decides.”
He recalled that the military courts established in the past had stopped functioning when the Supreme Court ruled in the Sheikh Liaquat case that there was no need for military or parallel courts as a judicial system was already working in the country.
“The democratic government should try to strengthen the existing judicial system,” he said.
Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said trying civilians for certain offences committed against military personnel and properties under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 is provided for in the law.
“Neither the PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party], the PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] nor the PTI ever tried to amend this law,” he added.
The Pildat chief said trying civilians under the army act will, therefore, be lawful. However, he added, he would plead against trying civilians under the army act on political grounds “with the exception of those who are directly found involved in the planning and attacking military installations”.
When asked what message will the military court trials send to the international community, Mehboob said many countries, including the US, have adopted extraordinary measures when their vital interests were attacked in the past. Having said that, he added, the “military trial of civilians especially of Imran Khan will not send a positive message about the democratic system in Pakistan.”
To another question, Mehboob said he did not think the military courts would solve any problems. “We need to do our course correction on the implementation of the Constitution and rule of law.”
He said these court-martial may give a breather to the government but it needs to take other long-term measures such as the provision of quality education to youth in order to address basic issues effectively.
“Unless we address the issues relating to education and employment of youth,” Mehboob said, “the problems will not go away. One group or the other will continue to exploit youth’s [sense of] deprivation and frustration.”
Commenting on the human rights organizations urging the government not to try civilians in military courts as it violates Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights law, Mehboob said some countries and human rights organisations will rightly criticise the move.
Prominent lawyer and political analyst Abdul Moiz Jaferii says that conducting trials of civilians in military courts undermines the legitimacy of the judiciary and erodes public trust in due process. “These trials will be nothing but a farce.”
The legal expert expressed his skepticism regarding the possibility of Imran Khan being tried in military courts, stating that if such a scenario were to unfold, the process would likely have already been initiated.
Jaferii said there is “enough material” to hold the trial of Imran Khan in an accountability court in order to get to “the desired goal.”
“The government only wants to hold trials of civilians in military courts to spread terror and fear amongst the people,” he said.