Military justice


With great powers come great responsibilities


In his latest tweet, DG ISPR, Lt. General Asim Bajwa announced the death sentences of 5 ‘hardcore terrorists’. Those convicted include Saad Aziz and his accomplices who were allegedly involved in the Safoora bus attack and the killing of Sabeen Mahmud.

Pakistan’s recent past is full of horrible attacks by Islamists and the Safoora bus attack was one such incident in which the innocent members of a small and peaceful community were killed mercilessly. Sabeen Mahmud was also targeted by the same group who perpetrated Safoora attack. With her death, a glimmer of hope for Karachi also died out as she was the actively involved in bringing peace and harmony in the damned city through art and activism.

When Saad Aziz was arrested, CM Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah announced he would personally supervise the investigations. Aziz supposedly confessed to killing Sabeen and perpetrating Safoora attack as agencies collected evidence against him.

As the investigations were reported, there was undeniable evidence against Aziz and his partners. One wonders, with such clear evidence, why was the case transferred to military courts? If they were absolutely guilty of the crimes, why wasn’t an open trial arranged?

Many rights organizations have protested against the opacity of the military courts’ justice as they suspect the right to free trial is not given to the accused. In Sabeen Mahmud’s case, there are many questions surrounding her killers. Her driver, a witness to her murder, was killed last year under mysterious circumstances. Many suspected she was murdered for arranging a seminar on Balochistan at T2F.

Such trials in closed rooms raise further suspicions about the transparency of the case and actual perpetrators. Many families of the convicts have alleged that the defendants were not allowed to have the lawyer of their choice, and neither were the defending lawyers given access to the evidence collected by the state.

A newspaper, in one editorial rightly observed, “What is clear is that military courts by their very design cannot ensure due process or a fair trial and that only the Supreme Court stands in the way of the total annihilation of constitutional safeguards of fundamental rights.”

The unfair trials are not the only problem facing military justice. It has been well established now that Rangers and agencies have been dealing with suspects with high-handedness.

Aftab Ahmed, who was the coordinator of Farooq Sattar and a seasoned political worker, was nabbed by Rangers on May 1, according to MQM sources. Only a couple of days later, he was brought to hospital by Rangers, where he died.

In a press release, Rangers claimed he died of a heart attack – contrary to MQM claims which said he was tortured severely in Rangers custody. As the day progressed, the pictures and videos of his dead body emerged on social media, pointing towards severe torture techniques such as nailing the elbows and even electrocuting.

The horrible pictures of his severely tortured body had the online world in shock as DG Rangers later confessed of him being tortured during the custody. The postmortem report revealed that up to 40% of his body had been served strong blows.

“Multiple bruises found which are variable in sizes in different regions of the body. Reddish and reddish black in colour, some found overlapping each other,” read the report.

COAS, General Raheel Sharif took notice of the incident and ordered inquiry. DG Rangers has suspended some officers for being behind the torture as he announced SOP was not followed. The question here arises: is just suspending the culprits enough?

This is not the first incident of Rangers’ high-handedness. Some old videos are available on social media in which Rangers are beating bike riders with sticks on road and not even sparing the cameramen filming them. Another video of a young man named Sarfraz emerged on social media in which he was shot by the Rangers’ soldiers, as he died pleading for their help.

Many in media and rights organizations have asserted that Rangers must not be given free hand to operate in a city as important and sensitive as Karachi because with power comes responsibility, which the military forces seldom exercise.

Pakistan’s history is filled with torture of political workers under dictatorial rules. The dungeons of Lahore fort are especially famous for hosting these workers during Zia era, as worse form of torture was inflicted upon them.

Ironically, Pakistan accused Bangladesh of ‘killing’ Jamat-i-Islami chief, Motiur Rahman Nizami through unfair trials. A statement by foreign office read, “The act of suppressing the opposition by killing their leaders through flawed trials is completely against the spirit of democracy.” While military tries such cases with impunity in its courts without providing the fundamental rights to fair trial, it is ironic and hypocritical of Pakistan to condemn a country for hanging someone.

Questions must be raised as to why the courts should keep operating and the extra-judicial killing by the hands of LEAs, for we are the citizens of this country, not the subjects.



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