The Supreme Court on Monday rejected review appeals filed by 16 terrorists against death penalty they were awarded by military courts for their involvement in terror-related activities.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, who headed the five-judge bench, read out the decision which was reserved earlier on June 20 after the counsels for the parties concerned ended their arguments.
The convicted, including Qari Zubair, Haider Ali, Qari Zahir Gul, Taj Mohammad, Atteeq-ur-Rehman, Akhtar Mahmood, Fateh Mohammad, Sher Alam and Mohammad Arabi, were found guilty of involvement in the Army Public School Attack in Peshawar, Parade Line bombing in Rawalpindi, Bannu jailbreak and attacks on army convoys and installations by the military courts.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif had already rejected appeals of these 16 terror convicts.
In its 182-page decision, the court ruled that the appellants failed to prove that the military had violated their constitutional rights or failed to follow the procedure.
The court observed that, “neither the order passed by the Field General Court Martial [military court] is a case of no evidence nor the evidence led by the prosecution is insufficient. There is sufficient material available to prove the guilt of the appellants”.
The counsel for the convicts had complained that his clients did not receive a fair trial, nor were they allowed to choose their counsel.
The court argued that the conditions for a fair trial were met and the defendants had been provided with a counsel.
The other judges on the apex court’s larger bench were Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik and Justice Faisal Arab.
The military has so far convicted 104 civilians in the secret tribunals. Of those, 100 have been sentenced to death, and four to life imprisonment. All but six are said by the military to have confessed.
Those whose appeals were dismissed on Monday included nine members of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and two Al Qaeda members, according to Pakistan’s military. Two convicts are said to have been involved in the Peshawar school killings.
The counsels for all 16 convicts had contended their clients had been tried in secret, without access to legal counsel of their choice, and that their confessions had been recorded illegally. They had also claimed they were denied access to military court records when preparing their appeals.
On June 20, rights activist Asma Jahangir appealed to the Supreme Court to order retrial in all cases in which military courts handed down convictions, including capital punishments.
She had complained that the full record of the evidence had not been made available to the accused. She had deplored that her clients had been arrested under the Action (In Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 (AACPR) before military courts were established, but their cases were sent to military courts only to “hide malice on the part of security forces because the rule under which the accused had been nabbed had no constitutional protection”.
The rejection was met with disapproval from international legal rights’ NGO, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
In a briefing paper that they released in June, the ICJ said that the proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall well short of national and international standards requiring fair trials before independent and impartial courts.
It said that judges are part of the executive branch of the State and continue to be “subjected to military command.” In these courts, said the ICJ, the right to appeal to civilian courts is not available, the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed; and “a duly reasoned, written judgment, including the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning, is denied.”
In addition, the procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and details about the alleged offences are kept secret.