In Pak, courts, armed forces lock horns over disputed vigilante justice for suspected militants

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 08, 2013 14:00 hrs

Courts in Pakistan and the nation's army appear to have locked horns over what is the best way to deliver justice to incarcerated suspected militants.

While the authorities and the security estabishment have admitted to holding 700 suspected militants without trial in "internment centres", the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, have maintained that people cannot be kept in illegal custody for an indefinite period, and must be tried.

Army officers, however, on condition of anonymity, have complained that Pakistan's courts are soft on terorism and and do not convict terrorists.

According to a report in The Economist, the case of Mazhar ul Haq , is an example of the dichotomy that prevails in Pakistan on this subject.

Taken away from his home by security and intelligence personnel one night in November 2007, Mazhar -ul Haq, a 36-year-old owner of a printing press has been accused of various, usually vague, terrorism offences, but has not been tried or convicted of any crime.

In May 2010 a court ordered him and ten others, all picked up around the same time, to be released from the Adiala top-security jail in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad. Yet armed intelligence agents apparently turned up at the prison and simply spirited them away.

According to The Economist, the armed forces of Pakiostan are perpetuating vigilante justice with the help of a sweeping law passed in 2011 -- Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation-which allows the them to hold suspects for unlimited periods, and even execute them.

Of the 10, including Mazhar-ul-Haq, taken into custody, four have died, while the remaining six are said to be half-starved and barely able to walk or talk.

The law allows the army to detain suspects in any part of the country. The testimony of a soldier is sufficient for conviction and sentencing, the death penalty included.

Amnesty International, a human-rights group, has found evidence of frequent torture, used over sustained periods, against those in custody.

The tribal areas, with a population of about three million, have been governed under special and draconian laws since colonial times. Measures include the possible collective punishment of whole tribes.

The 2011 law heaps further injustice on these people, putting all Pakistanis at risk of arbitrary arrest and disappearance. (ANI)

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