Today marked the retirement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Chaudhry has played a central role in many of Pakistan’s most dramatic developments in the past eight years during which he served on the court. AP has a capsule summary of some of those events:
He was appointed chief justice in 2005 and attracted national prominence two years later, when he was sacked by then-President Pervez Musharraf. He was reinstated in 2009 after a protest movement led by the nation’s lawyers.
I must confess to having been turned into a huge fan of Pakistan’s lawyers during this time. The images of hordes of lawyers clad in black suits and marching in support of the rule of law led to many fantasies of such things happening here in the US. It took two years of demonstrations and the election of a new government after Musharraf was forced to step down, but Chaudhry eventually was released from detention and returned to his spot on the bench.
It should be noted that current Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif played a large role in the final movement that procured Chaudhry’s release. The first four minutes of this story from Al Jazeera provide a good summary of those momentous developments:
Chaudhry will be a very tough act to follow.
While the US enters its eleventh year of maintaining the Guantanamo Prison that Barack Obama pledged to close by the end of 2009, Pakistan now finds itself in the glare of international condemnation for its own practice of indefinite detention without charges. Just last month, Amnesty International released a report (pdf) in which they pointed out widespread torture and abuse in Pakistan’s tribal areas while prisoners are held by the military and intelligence agency without charges:
Amnesty International research shows that, rather than seeking to apply and strengthen the human rights safeguards of Pakistan’s ordinary criminal justice system in the Tribal Areas, the Pakistani authorities are applying old and new security laws that authorise prolonged, arbitrary, preventive detention by the Armed Forces, and breach international human rights law. The Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations 2011 (AACPR) in particular, along with the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901 (FCR),5 provide a framework for widespread human rights violations to occur with impunity.
Both the AACPR and FCR come into play in a case argued today in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. From Reuters, we learn that although this case addresses just 11 men (now 7 due to four deaths, more on that later), the government now admits that over 700 are being held without charges:
Pakistan is holding 700 suspected Islamist militants without charge under a law that has come under fire from human rights groups, its attorney general said on Thursday.
The admission marked the first time that the strategic U.S. ally detailed how many militants it is holding in the tribal areas of the northwest under the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulations law.
“There is a military operation in Waziristan. Under the law we cannot try these 700 people, nor can we release them, unless the operation is over,” Attorney General Irfan Qadir told the Supreme Court, referring to a tribal area near the Afghan border.
The Reuters report, however, seems to miss the mark on several important issues in this story. First, Reuters says the case is about “seven suspected militants held without charge since May 2010”. Both Dawn and the Express Tribune point out in their stories today that the case originated with 11 men. Here is how Dawn describes that part of the background:
The 11 prisoners in the said case went missing from the gate of Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail on May 29, 2010 after they had been acquitted of terrorism charges pertaining to their alleged involvement in the October 2009 attacks on the Army General Headquarters and the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Hamza Camp in the garrison town.
Later, four of the 11 died in mysterious circumstances. The Supreme Court forced the ISI and military intelligence to produce the remaining seven men in court on February 13 — an unprecedented move. The men, all in deteriorating health, were sent to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar on court orders. After five of them recovered, they were shifted to an internment centre in Parachinar.
The other point that Reuters seems to miss comes when Reuters says of the men that the “Supreme Court is calling for their release” while it appears on closer reading of the Pakistani press that the “release” is from military detention into the hands of civilian authorities who would then try the men. Here is the Express Tribune: Continue reading