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Pakistan military courts for terror trials

January 6, 2015

Lawmakers in Pakistan have approved an amendment which will allow the establishment of military courts to try terror suspects. It follows a massacre by the Pakistani Taliban last month at a school in Peshawar.

Supporters of Pakistani civil society groups rally against Taliban and militants in Lahore, Pakistan. Monday, Jan. 5, 2015.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

Pakistan's National Assembly on Tuesday passed the legislation amending the country's constitution, paving the way for military courts to try suspects accused of terror offenses. The vote passed unanimously among those present with 247 votes, securing more than the two-thirds majority required as the main opposition party joined the ruling party to approve the change.

"The bitter pill of this new law is being swallowed for the security of Pakistan," said Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, opposition leader in the lower house.

"We are principally against a parallel judicial system in the country, but we had to support the parliamentary bill considering the security situation. The military courts are unconstitutional," Latif Khosa, a leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, told DW.

The law change, which will now go to the upper house, would stay in force for two years.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced the plans to speed up terror trials in the aftermath of the December 16 attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the Army Public School in Peshawar. The siege in which about 150 people were killed, most of them children, shocked the nation. Last month, a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in terror cases. Several people convicted on terror charges have since been killed.

Opposition to military courts

Members of the religious parties Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamait Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal group) abstained from Tuesday's vote, while lawmakers from the party of cricketer turned politician Imran Khan were not present.

"After 9/11 (the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States) Muslims were being targeted and the same thing is being done in the name of constitutional amendment," Jamait Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal group) chief Fazalur Rehman told reporters at parliament, adding, "Some forces are trying to initiate a war between religious and secular forces in the country."

The Pakistani English-language newspaper "Dawn" called it a "sad day" in an editorial released Tuesday, saying the government had not strengthened the civilian legal system and judicial process enough to deal with terrorism.

"Yes, we need a coherent strategy to fight militancy and political and military leaders to work together. But military courts are not the answer," Dawn wrote.

Former judge Tariq Mehmood said it would have been better if the existing legal system had been revamped.

"We fear human rights abuses by the military courts."

"The government could have improved the existing judicial system instead of amending the constitution to create military courts. It is a pity that the army tribunals will also try common citizens," Inam al-Rahim, another former Pakistan judge, told DW.

Pakistan's powerful military has ruled the country on and off for several decades since Pakistan gained independence in 1947. Tariq Asad, an Islamabad-based lawyer, told DW he would challenge the amendment in the Supreme Court. "In Pakistan's constitution, there is no place for military courts," he said.

se, shs/rg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)