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Pakistan: Rescind Decree Allowing Military Trials of Civilians
(New York, November 15, 2007) – The Pakistan government should immediately withdraw amendments to the country’s Army Act which give wide-ranging powers to the military, including the power to arrest, detain and try any civilian, Human Rights Watch said today. The military is Pakistan’s principal human rights abuser and the use of torture by its intelligence agencies is widespread and well-documented.
“The military is Pakistan’s principal human rights abuser and the use of torture by its intelligence agencies is widespread and well-documented,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Granting it legal authority to detain, interrogate and try its opponents amounts to throwing them to the lions and providing license for repression and torture.”
The law was amended by General Pervez Musharraf through presidential decree on November 10, a week after he suspended the constitution and unleashed a crackdown on the country’s judiciary, lawyers, human rights activists and opposition political activists.
Under the amendment to the 1952 Army Act, the military can now try civilians for a wide range of offenses previously under the purview of the country’s judiciary. These include offenses punishable under: the Explosive Substances Act, 1908; Prejudicial conduct under the Security of Pakistan Act, 1952; the Pakistan Arms Ordinance, 1965; the Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act, 1974; the Anti-terrorism Act, 1997; and several sections of the Pakistan Penal Code. For example, civilians can be tried in military courts for acts of treason, sedition and less specific offenses such as “giving statements conducive to public mischief.”
Trials of civilians conducted by special military courts under the amended law will not be public, investigations will be conducted by military officers, and rules of evidence and procedures laid out for constitutional trials will not apply. It is increasingly recognized under international human rights laws that the trial of civilians by military courts should be very exceptional and only occur under conditions that genuinely afford full due process. Read More