Some respite for seven civilians facing court martial
ISLAMABAD, Feb 3: The surviving seven civilians who were once charged under the Army Act with conspiring to attack military personnel and installations no longer face court martial, according to a security official.
Instead, they are likely to be tried for suspected involvement in an attack on a military convoy in tribal areas as they serve internment under a special counter-terrorism law.
“Field General Court Martial in their case is now irrelevant. They have been interned and would be tried for a 2010 attack on an army convoy in tribal areas,” a senior security official disclosed on Friday during a background interview with Dawn.
Their internment and expected prosecution would take place under Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 for Fata, which was promulgated by the government in June 2010, but was applied with effect from Feb 2008. The special law gives the military sweeping powers, including holding someone for an indefinite period, during counter-terrorism operations in Fata.
The comments by the security agencies, probably the first in the media, came as the detainees are set to be produced before Supreme Court next week on instructions of a three-member bench hearing a petition by Ms Rohaifa, mother of three brothers detained by security agencies on charges of involvement in attacks on military installations.
One of the brothers died in detention last month.
The petition had challenged their detention and trial under Army Act.
The case pertains to 11 persons — Dr Niaz Ahmed Saqib, Mazhar ul Haq, Shafique ur Rehman, Abdul Basit, Abdul Saboor,
Abdul Majid, Muhammad Amir Khan, Muhammad Shafiq aka Maaz, Tehseen ullah, Said Arab aka Tariq Gul, Roze Khan aka Farman, who were separately described by another security official as “hard core terrorists involved in planning and facilitating the Nov 24, 2007, suicide attacks on the GHQ and Hamza Camp (ISI) and the Jan 15, 2008, strike on Kamra Air Base”.
They had, however, been acquitted of the charges by an anti-terrorism court.
Four of them — Amir, Saboor, Arab and Tehsinullah — have already died in custody. Another four are being treated for different ailments in a hospital.
All 11 had disappeared mysteriously after their release from Adiala jail in May 2010. Intelligence agencies claimed to have found them at a terrorist hideout in Orakzai Agency along with nine other people in Dec 2010 as the Supreme Court took up the case of their disappearance.
They were, however, formally arrested in April last year and charged under Army Act for their alleged role in terrorist activities.
“The issue of their disappearance is a settled matter because the court has accepted the explanation that they vanished under the guise of intelligence operatives following their release from Adiala and were found from a terrorist camp,” the official insisted.
Subsequent petitions by relatives of the detainees for getting their confinement declared illegal and getting an injunction against their trial under Army Act were dismissed by courts.
However, the case again made headlines in August last year after the death of Muhammad Amir, one of the detainees, because of renal failure. Later in December two other detainees, Arab and Tehseenuallh, died.
And as the Supreme Court took up a fresh petition by Ms Rohaifa, her son Abdul Saboor too died.
Death of four of the 11 detainees sparked an outcry amidst fears that torture could have been a cause.
The petitioner alleged that the detainees were being “slow poisoned”.
However, the security official dismissed claims of torture and slow poisoning as “blatant lies”.
A video, claimed by the petitioner’s counsel as a proof of torture, was rejected as “doctored”.
Medical records, bills of medicines purchased for treatment of the dead men and their death certificates were shown to Dawn as proof that their deaths were not caused by torture.
Abdul Saboor, according to the record, was suffering from pancytopenia and died of respiratory distress. Tehsinullah and Arab, their death certificates say, died of cardio-pulmonary arrest, while renal failure and dehydration were cited as cause of
death in case of Amir.
The security official emphasised that they were ready for exhumation of bodies of the detainees on court orders to clear the allegation of torture even as relatives of at least two of them had refused in writing to get their post-mortem done for determining the cause of death.
Suggesting that allegations of torture were an afterthought, he said relatives of the detainees had met them two to three times, under instructions from the court, and on none of the occasions they alleged torture.
Advocate Tariq Asad, counsel for the petitioner, was contacted for comments, but he refused to say anything. “I cannot go all over the case,” he said and hung up.
Mr Asad has contended that the three brothers, being civilians, cannot be tried under Army Act and had alleged that the
detaining authorities were not following the procedure laid down for prosecution under the act.
He had further prayed to the court to seek a report on deaths of the detainees and details of the proceedings that have taken place against them.