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Amnesty chief criticises military trial of civilians in Pakistan; urges govt to uphold international obligations

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly state that civilians should not be tried by military courts, Amnesty International's Secretary General Dr Agnes Callamard said.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 10:58 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 10:58 IST

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Karachi: Military courts in Pakistan should not try more than 100 people for their alleged role in attacks on army installations during the riots that followed former premier Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9 last year, Amnesty International chief has said, urging the government to uphold its international obligations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly state that civilians should not be tried by military courts, Amnesty International's Secretary General Dr Agnes Callamard said.

The Amnesty chief, who is on her first regional visit to South Asia, was on Tuesday quoted by Dawn News as saying that although military trials for civilians are a “no-no” under international law, “sadly it has happened throughout Pakistan’s political history… [and] is not a novelty”.

Callamard, emphasising the principles of transparency, due process and judicial independence, urged Pakistan to uphold its international obligations and safeguard constitutional guarantees ensuring the right to a fair trial.

“The use of military courts is threatening the constitutionality of what’s happening right now,” she said.

Regarding the ban on X (formerly Twitter) in Pakistan, Callamard said Amnesty was quite alarmed by the shrinking space for freedom of expression in the country.

Calling the ban “disproportionate, unnecessary and against international law”, Callamard said it was particularly bad for individuals unable to access Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

"Everything is being targeted, the means of expression and the people who are expressing themselves. This includes journalists. The space for free speech in Pakistan is shrinking,” Callamard said, noting that criticism of state institutions did not constitute a crime under international law.

“Pakistan should do the opposite of what it is doing right now,” she said.

Her statement came amidst the decision by Pakistan to conduct the trial of more than 100 civilians for their alleged role in attacks on army installations during the riots that followed jailed former premier Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9 last year.

According to the Pakistani Army, 102 accused have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attacks on key military establishments, including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the Corps Commander’s House in Lahore, Pakistan Air Force Base Mianwali, and an office of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Faisalabad, have been handed over to the military authorities for trial.

However, the country's apex court in mid-December 2023 adjourned the hearing of the case till the third week of January 2024.

Before that, while suspending its prior decision to invalidate the military trials of civilians, the apex court had conditionally allowed these trials, observing that the military courts would not issue a verdict against the suspects till its final ruling on the matter.

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Published 21 May 2024, 10:58 IST

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