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Supreme Court’s Decision and Justification of Civilian Trials in Military Courts

Supreme Court’s Decision and Justification of Civilian Trials in Military Courts

 

By Sarah

On Monday, Pakistan's top court ruled that military trials of civilians are unconstitutional, a relief for dozens on trial for ransacking military installations during protests in May after the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The government had earlier said it would use military courts to try the suspects, sparking fears over fair process. Following the violence on May 9 which targeted civilian as well as military installations, a total of 102 persons were taken into custody for their involvement in the attacks on military establishments, including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the corps commander’s residence in Lahore, PAF Base Mianwali, and an office of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Faisalabad. The suspects have been in custody since May.

Political leaders who have huge public support are expected to operate within the bounds of the constitution; on the other hand, revolutionaries and radicalists introduce radical ideas and exhort his supporters to attack the state. The problem with Pakistan’s political enthusists is that they end up acting as a convenient lure for political leaders. Imran Khan’s case is quite relatable as far as Pakistani politics goes. Imran Khan’s nationalistic appeals and claims of a purely Pakistani identity have been exploited to instill a sense of “us against them.” Therefore, when individuals firmly affiliate themselves with their leaders, they intend to blindly follow their lawful and unlawful calls indiscriminatory and thus, polarization intensifies, which further escalates the division. Imran Khan has accomplished this with his aggressive activities against the state entities quite well. His statements against the Pakistan Army and military leadership have shaped public opinion against security forces, ringing alarm bells throughout the country. 

In a similar incident, violence swept across Pakistan on May 9, 2023, after the police arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan on corruption charges. Several of Khan’s supporters attacked police officers and set fire to ambulances, police vehicles, and schools. The most prompt and readily available tool for curbing such violence aimed at the government’s security institutions is through dispensing justice in military courts to restore order – all the while operating within the legal bounds of the constitution of Pakistan. Military court proceedings may be interpreted more effectively in scenarios where prompt resolution is required. Trials in military tribunals have been utilized in the past to try criminals who committed serious crimes, therefore they are not a novel concept in the record of world history.

On the question of the legality of such a process, Pakistan Army Act (PAA)1952, and the official secret act 1923 allow trying civilians in military courts in such circumstances, which include mutiny, spying and taking photographs in ‘Prohibited’ areas as clause (a) of sub-section (3) of section 2 of the PAA 1952 has stated the people who, “Raise arms or wage war against Pakistan, or attack the Armed Forces of Pakistan or law enforcement agencies, or attack any civil or military installations in Pakistan” would be held accountable under the PAA. Pakistan police have so far handed over 33 civilian suspects to the army for trials in military courts with charges of attacking sensitive defense installations and stealing government equipment, computers and other types of equipment. The government claims that those who are responsible for creating violence will face trials in civilian courts but those entered and responsible for creating violence in military installations will be held accountable in military courts.

Military court proceedings are generally regarded as more suitable in scenarios where speedy trials are required for exclusive dealing of a particular matter. In dealing with certain offenses or circumstances, especially those involving military personnel or concerns about national defense, military tribunals may have specialized expertise and experience. Especially concerning high-profile instances that have attracted substantial public attention, the choice to use military court hearings may be driven by a need to reassure the public that justice would be delivered promptly and effectively. Military court proceedings may be seen as a way to protect the integrity of democratic systems in situations where the offenders’ acts are perceived as an immediate assault on democratic structures or procedures.

Yesterday’s court decision reflects what a court would normally do in a democratic system but certain incidents like violent attacks on the country’s security forces challenge the credibility of the government on a larger scale. This decision could be taken as negligence of the Pakistan Army Act (PAA)1952 it would allow such elements to conduct open attacks on state institutions.

 

*Opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The South Asia Times   

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