Top Pakistan judges back controversial military courts

Top Pakistan judges back controversial military courts

ISLAMABAD – Agence France-Presse
Top Pakistan judges back controversial military courts

AFP photo

Pakistan’s Supreme Court Aug. 5 approved controversial new military courts set up to hear terror cases, rejecting an attempt to have them ruled illegal.

Lawmakers approved a change to the constitution in January to establish the military courts, as part of a crackdown on militancy following a Taliban massacre at a school which left more than 150 people - mostly children - dead.

The move prompted concern from rights activists and in April a group of lawyers challenged the constitutional amendment that created them.

But a 17-member bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the petition by 11 votes to six, Chief Justice Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said in a brief ruling before a detailed judgement expected later.

Kamran Murtaza, a former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a petitioner in the case, told AFP they would consider asking the court to review its decision.

“We stated in our petitions that the matter of military courts is not in accordance with the constitution and it is against human rights,” Murtaza said.

“It affects the basic structure and independence of judiciary itself.”

Parliament has approved the use of the courts for the coming two years, and cases are referred to them by provincial governments.

But some have called for the trials to be more transparent.

The International Commission of Jurists Aug. 5 condemned the military courts as “secret, opaque” and in violation of fair trial obligations.

The army announced the first verdicts and sentences from the new courts in April. Six militants were condemned to death and another jailed for life, all on terrorism charges, though scant details of the offences and trials were given.

The Supreme Court suspended the sentences while it heard the legal challenge to the courts.