ISLAMABAD: A leading international rights group and a Pakistani watchdog are calling on Pakistan not to try civilians who were involved in recent anti-government protests before military courts.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued separate statements late Tuesday, saying they were alarmed by the government’s plan to bring supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan who clashed with police and rioted across the country to trial under military rules.
Military trials in Pakistan are usually held behind closed doors, depriving civilians of some of their basic rights, including contracting a lawyer of their choice.
A wave of violence engulfed Pakistan’s capital and other urban areas following the dramatic arrest of Khan — now opposition leader — from a courtroom in Islamabad on Tuesday last week.
Angry Khan supporters torched buildings and vehicles and attacked police and military personnel and facilities. The clashes killed 10 people while authorities arrested 4,000. The Supreme Court later ordered Khan’s release and criticized the way he was arrested.
The Pakistani army and government have announced they will try “the arsonists” involved in the violent protests under military law.
Amnesty said it was “alarming to note” that the authorities have stated their “intention to try civilians under military laws, possibly in military courts.”
Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for South Asia, said that trying civilians in military courts is contrary to international law.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said civilians arrested should be tried in civil courts and not military ones — reserved for troops suspected of working against the country’s national interests and violating military rules.
Dissanayake said the Pakistani government was using military law as “an intimidation tactic, designed to crack down on dissent by exercising fear of an institution that has never been held to account for its overreach.”