Punjab sanctions army trial of protestors, overriding Supreme Court

LAHORE: The caretaker government of Punjab granted approval to initiate legal proceedings against protestors involved in vandalism and mob attacks on military installations through laws governing the army, just a day after the army chief hinted at taking appropriate action in this regard.

Following the brief arrest of Imran Khan on Tuesday, violent protests erupted and, for two days, several thousand enraged supporters of the former prime minister rampaged through cities around the country, setting fire to buildings and blocking roads.

At least nine people died in the unrest, police and hospitals said. Hundreds of security officials have been injured and more than 3,000 supporters and activists of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) arrested, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Since Wednesday, the army has been deployed in two provinces and in the capital.

The decision of the interim administration, whose 90-day term expired on Sunday midnight, Tuesday violates a 2020 Supreme Court ruling declaring that a civilian cannot be tried under the Army Act, 1952 in crimes pertaining to civil cases.

“If a civil offence is committed, whether by a soldier or a common citizen, the case will be tried in a criminal court,” the court held, further observing that a criminal court reserves the authority to stop court-martials in such instances.

A meeting of the senior leadership of the military, chaired by Army Chief Gen. Syed Asim Munir, on Monday vowed to prosecute any protestors involved in “heinous crimes against the military installations” through the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

The meeting also vowed that no restraint would be exercised against any perpetrators, spoilers and violators who targeted military installations and setups under any circumstances, according to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement.

Subsequently, on Tuesday, a meeting presided over by Mohsin Naqvi, caretaker chief minister, decided to take swift and decisive action against the suspects and directed the authorities to promptly arrest them.

During the meeting, emphasis was placed on enhancing inter-agency collaboration among various security institutions to effectively identify the true perpetrators behind these acts of terrorism.

Naqvi informed the participants that investigators were diligently examining surveillance footage to identify those involved, with the ultimate goal of ensuring their swift arrest.

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