Pakistan to Use Military Courts in Terrorism Cases

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Pakistan to Use Military Courts in Terrorism Cases

Human rights watchdogs denounce death penalty plans in wake of Peshawar school attack

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced plans to use military courts in terrorism trials. (Photo: Number 10/flickr/cc)

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced plans on Wednesday to set up military courts for use in terrorism trials following the deadly school attack in Peshawar last week that saw 149 people, most of them children, killed by Taliban fighters.

In a television address, Sharif vowed to crush militancy, saying the courts would be established for "the speedy trial of terrorists." The move is widely expected to be denounced by human rights groups.

The news comes shortly after Sharif lifted Pakistan's six-year moratorium on the death penalty to allow for a wave of mass executions, with roughly 500 people set to be hanged in the coming weeks.

Legal charity Reprieve on Wednesday condemned Pakistan's reinstatement of the death penalty, noting that some of those set to be executed "have a 'black warrant' issued in their names have been convicted of offenses bearing no relation to terrorism."

Among those prisoners is Shafqat Hussain, who was arrested at 14 and tortured into a false confession, Reprieve said, adding that he is "only one of the 86.3% of people tried by the anti-terrorism courts that have nothing to do with terrorism as it is reasonably understood."

Sharif did not elaborate in his address on how the military courts would function or whether people convicted in those trials would be allowed to appeal the rulings. However, the Prime Minister did say that the courts would operate for two years and would require changes in current law. The government is also planning to create a new counter-terrorism force, Sharif said.

Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told the New York Times that military courts would be a "Faustian bargain" without reform in the civilian justice system.

Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has been accused of ignoring militant operations in the past "for the sake of political expediency," the Times writes. The Prime Minister also advocated for peace talks with the Taliban as recently as this summer.

Legal analyst and retired judge Tariq Mehmood told Pakistan's Geo Television that military courts would only present additional problems.

"In our constitutional system, it’s the judiciary, only, that is meant to deliver justice," Mehmood said. "We have anti-terrorism courts in this country, and it’s true that there has been a long delay in some cases, but we need to do away with the problems that those courts and judges are facing instead of setting up military courts."

Six people have already been put to death since the moratorium was lifted last week.

"Pakistan’s government has chosen to indulge in vengeful blood-lust instead of finding and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific Peshawar attack," Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in response to the first wave of executions. "The government's death penalty spree is a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings that will do nothing to bring the attackers to justice."

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