ISLAMABAD: Hearing a landmark case on the constitutionality of civilians being tried in military courts, Pakistan’s top court said on Thursday it would not let the country’s armed forces take “illegal steps.”
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest in a land fraud case last month sparked widespread protests by his supporters who ransacked, among other properties, military facilities and installations. While Khan has since been released on bail, the military and government have said those who attacked army installations, including a top commander’s house, an air base, and the military’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, would be tried in military courts.
The military has since said 102 people were being tried by its courts in connection with the May 9 riots while 17 such courts were already functional. Khan’s party and others have filed petitions challenging the legality of civilian trials under army laws.
At the start of Thursday’s hearing, Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial praised the military for practicing restraint during the May 9 protests while its properties were being damaged.
“However, the military will not be allowed to take any illegal steps,” he was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper and other local media outlets.
Justice Bandial said the court needed to hear Attorney General (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan’s arguments but the court would not be able to do so for at least two weeks due to the unavailability of judges on summer holidays. In the meantime, he instructed the AGP: “No military trials of civilians will be conducted.”
The CJP then adjourned the hearing indefinitely.
Justice Munib Akhtar, another justice on the six-member bench, said, “the concept of fundamental human rights is such that the state cannot take them back even if it wants to.”
He said civilian trials in military courts would amount to running a parallel judicial system.
Local and international human rights bodies have also raised alarm about the use of military courts for civilian cases, saying they infringe on due legal process.