Pakistan: May 9 mayhem; SC nullifies military trial of civilians


The apex court on Monday annulled the trial in the military courts of civilians accused of the May 9 violence that broke out following the arrest of former premier Imran Khan in a graft case.

A five-member apex court bench — headed by Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Ayesha Malik — issued the order on the petitions filed by the PTI chief and others.

Four judges out of the five declared that Section 2(1)(d) of the Army Act and 59(4) (civil offences) are “ultra vires the Constitution and of no legal effect”.

“Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing the trials of civilians and accused persons, being around 103 persons […] shall be tried by criminal courts of competent jurisdiction established under the ordinary and/or special law of the land in relation to such offences of which they may stand accused,” the short order read.

The top court said the verdict is applicable to all those accused arrested in connection with the riots of May 9 and 10.

The order further said that any action or proceedings under the Army Act in respect of the aforesaid persons or any other persons so similarly placed — including but not limited to trial by court-martial — are and would be of no legal effect.

Although the bench concluded that Section 2(D)(1) was in contradiction with the Constitution, Justice Yahya Afridi reserved his decision.

The apex court had reserved the verdict earlier today after Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan completed his arguments, which centred around the domain and scope of the military courts to try the civilians under the Army Act.

Today’s hearing

At the outset of the hearing today, petitioner lawyer Salman Akram Raja told the bench that trials of civilians already commenced before the top court’s verdict in the matter.

Responding to this, Justice Ahsan said the method of conducting proceedings of the case would be settled after Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan completed his arguments.

Presenting his arguments, the AGP said he would explain to the court why a constitutional amendment was necessary to form military courts in 2015 to try the terrorists.

Responding to Justice Ahsan’s query, AGP Awan said the accused who were tried in military courts were local as well as foreign nationals.

He said the accused would be tried under Section 2 (1) (D) of the Official Secrets Act and a trial under the Army Act would fulfill all the requirements of a criminal case.

“The trial of the May 9 accused will be held in line with the procedure of a criminal court,” the AGP said.

The AGP said the 21st Amendment was passed because the terrorists did not fall in the ambit of the Army Act.

“Amendment was necessary for the trial of terrorists [then] why amendment not required for the civilians? At the time of the 21st constitutional amendment, did the accused attack the army or installations?” inquired Justice Ahsan.

AGP Awan replied that the 21st Amendment included a provision to try accused involved in attacking restricted areas.

“How do civilians come under the ambit of the Army Act?” Justice Ahsan asked the AGP.

Justice Malik asked AGP Awan to explain what does Article 8 of the Constitution say. “According to Article 8, legislation against fundamental rights cannot be sustained,” the AGP responded.

Justice Malik observed that the Army Act was enacted to establish discipline in the forces. “How can the law of discipline in the armed forces be applied to civilians?” she inquired.

The AGP responded by saying that discipline of the forces is an internal matter while obstructing armed forces from discharging duties is a separate issue.

He said any person facing the charges under the Army Act can be tried in military courts.

“The laws you [AGP] are referring to are related to army discipline,” Justice Ahsan said.

Justice Malik inquired whether the provision of fundamental rights be left to the will of Parliament.

“The Constitution ensures the provision of fundamental rights at all costs,” she added.

If the court opened this door then even a traffic signal violator will be deprived of his fundamental rights, Justice Malik said.

The AGP told the bench that court-martial is not an established court under Article 175 of the Constitution.

At which, Justice Ahsan said court martials are not under Article 175 but are courts established under the Constitution and Law.

After hearing the arguments, the bench reserved the verdict on the petitions.

A day earlier, the federal government informed the apex court that the military trials of civilians had already commenced.

After concluding the hearing, Justice Ahsan hinted at issuing a short order on the petitions.

The government told the court about the development related to trials in the military court in a miscellaneous application following orders of the top court on August 3, highlighting that at least 102 people were taken into custody due to their involvement in the attacks on military installations and establishments.

Suspects express confidence in mly courts

The same day, expressing their “faith and confidence” in military authorities, nine of the May 9 suspects — who are currently in army’s custody — moved the Supreme Court, seeking an order for their trial in the military court be proceeded and concluded expeditiously to “meet the ends of justice”.

Nine out of more than 100 suspects, who were in the army’s custody, filed their petitions in the apex court via an advocate-on-record.

The May 9 riots were triggered almost across the country after former prime minister Imran Khan’s — who was removed from office via a vote of no confidence in April last year — arrest in the £190 million settlement case. Hundreds of PTI workers and senior leaders were put behind bars for their involvement in violence and attacks on military installations.

Last hearing

In response to the move by the then-government and military to try the May 9 protestors in military courts, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, former chief justice Jawwad S Khawaja, lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, and five civil society members, including Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) Executive Director Karamat Ali, requested the apex court to declare the military trials “unconstitutional”.

The initial hearings were marred by objections on the bench formation and recusals by the judges. Eventually, the six-member bench heard the petitions.

However, in the last hearing on August 3, the then-chief justice Umar Ata Bandial said the apex court would stop the country’s army from resorting to any unconstitutional moves while hearing the pleas challenging the trial of civilians in military courts.

A six-member bench, led by the CJP and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Ayesha Malik, heard the case.

In the last hearing, the case was adjourned indefinitely after the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan assured the then CJP that the military trials would not proceed without informing the apex court.__Courtesy