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99pc conviction rate in military courts: ICJ

By Fakhar Durrani
January 21, 2019

Islamabad : Amid the debate about future of Military Courts, data reveals the conviction rate in these courts was above 99 percent.

According to International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) data, the military courts were referred 717 cases of hardcore terrorists out of which 646 have been decided. The data further shows that only five accused of terrorism have been acquitted by the Military Courts. The fate of remaining 71 pending cases is still uncertain as a decision about the future of these courts is yet to be taken by the parliament.

The government is currently in consultation with opposition parties to get consensus on the extension of military courts for the next two years. Some political parties’ leaders have expressed their concerns about giving extension to these courts. However, the leading opposition party PML-N’s President Shahbaz Sharif has recently hinted that his party might support the military court’s extension. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari while talking to media said supporting an extension for military courts will be difficult for his party. He however has also clarified that his party has not been contacted by the government on the said matter.

It is pertinent to mention here that the military courts’ two years term is about to expire in March this year. Last week, the Federal Cabinet has reportedly approved a proposal to extend the tenure of military courts for another two years. The military courts were established in the aftermath of attack on Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014. These courts were set up through the 21st Constitutional Amendment to try the hardcore terrorists.

According to government sources, provincial apex committees comprising civilian and military officials are responsible for selecting the cases of individuals charged with terrorism related offices to be referred to the military courts for trial and forwarding them to the Ministry of the Interior for final approval. The Ministry of the Interior vets the list submitted by the provincial committees, and sends a final list of cases to the military for trial.

The ICJ data while quoting the military officials has revealed that during the last four years since military courts were empowered to try the terrorism related offences, they have convicted 641 people. Out of 641, the courts have awarded death sentence to some 345 people (53.82 percent) and 296 people (46.17 percent) have been given prison sentences. Only five people have been acquitted whereas 56 out of 345 death row prisoners have been hanged so far.

Pakistan lifted the moratorium on the death penalty after the terrorists’ attack on Army Public School Peshawar to execute the hardcore terrorists only. However, surprisingly almost 90 percent of the death row prisoners executed from December 2014 to February 2018 were not terrorists.

From December 2014 to February 2018, on average three death row inmates are being executed in almost every week making Pakistan the “fifth most prolific executioner country” in the world following China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Executions of convicted terrorists are the very first point of the National Action Plan —Pakistan’s new counter terrorism policy measure after the incident of APS attack. However, only one out of 20 death row prisoner has been executed on the charges of terrorism by the military courts. In many cases of criminal offenses like robbery, rape/murder and even political violence and nationalist movements, the state levels terrorism charges. The application of this parallel legal system raises questions whether the regular criminal justice system is incapable of delivering justice swiftly.

According to ICJ, from December 2014 to February 2018, 86 terrorists of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan were awarded death sentence. Similarly, 05 accused terrorists of Toheedwal Jihad Group, 08 members of Al Qaeda, 07 members of Sepah-e-Sahaba, 03 members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, 07 Lashkar-e-Islam, 02 members of Harkat Ul Jehad-e-Islami, one member of Jaish-e-Muhammad and 67 members of other proscribed organizations were awarded death sentence by the military courts.

Reema Omar, ICJ representative for Pakistan while talking to The News said, it is true that the number of terrorism incidents and casualties have decreased in the last few years, it is nearly impossible to show any kind of causal link between the types of jurisdiction used to adjudicate serious crime like acts of terrorism and the propensity of those who engage in such crimes to carry out these kinds of acts.

Talking about the need of reforms in criminal justice system, Ms Omar said criminal justice system would require substantial reform of a number of institutions - which have historically been resistant to change - including the prosecution, the police and the judiciary, each of which has its own set of complications. Furthermore, there is also a need to revise and update the legislation related to criminal justice - both substantive and procedural, as well as legal aid provisions.

“Take the number of judges, for example. Pakistan has on average 10 judges for 1 million people. The world average is close to 50. More fundamentally, I think there is resistance to the idea of “fair trial” in Pakistan, particularly for “sensitive” issues like corruption, terrorism and other serious crimes. This has grown in the age of social media, where “public outrage” has reversed the premise of a fair trial - that of the presumption of innocence. People are more interested in vengeance and “exemplary punishments” than the idea of justice where guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt after a fair trial”, she commented.

One manifestation of this is the number of “special laws” that are enacted on the false promise of “speedy justice” – the Anti-Terrorism Act, the NAB ordinance, 23rd constitutional amendment/military courts etc. – but compromise on basic fair trials rights, she said.

Justice (R) Nasir Aslam Zahid while talking about the extension of military courts said the military courts should never be established in the first place. These courts are established only in extraordinary situation. Pakistan is not facing any emergency-like situation then what is the need of such courts now.

To a question about military court’s operations, Justice (R) Nasir said one cannot raise fingers on the transparency of military court’s operations, as they operate like any other civilian courts. However, he said even then he does not have faith in the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) and MCs. Instead of investing in ATCs and MCs the government should have enhanced the capacity and capability of civilian courts, particularly in the lower courts.