On Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court demanded the records of all individuals detained in relation to the May 9 riots, which includes women and journalists. This action follows petitions challenging the court-martial of those who reportedly damaged military assets in the aftermath of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest.
Notices were also issued to all individuals and entities listed as respondents in the petitions against the trial of civilians in military courts under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, and the Official Secret Act, 1923. Despite the requests from the petitioners, the court declined to pause the military courts’ proceedings for the accused.
The court directed the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP), present at the proceedings, to furnish details including the total number of detainees under both civil and military custody due to offenses allegedly committed during or after the incidents on May 9, 2023. Information on the number of women, juveniles, advocates, and journalists in custody was also sought.
This information was sought during a hearing conducted by a nine-member bench led by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Umar Ata Bandial. The hearing was in response to petitions filed by former CJP Jawwad S Khawaja, Imran Khan, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Aitzaz Ahsan, and representatives of civil society.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa, a member of the bench and future CJP, raised several issues, pointing out that the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 outlines a specific procedure for forming benches in cases related to Article 184(3). This article pertains to matters of “public importance” and any violation of citizens’ fundamental rights.
Justice Isa expressed surprise at finding his name included on the cause list for an eight-judge bench hearing, scheduled without a prior consultation. He called for a decision on the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023, which he believes was prematurely suspended by an eight-member bench before its full enactment.
Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, another senior member of the bench, concurred with Justice Isa and questioned the number of judges to hear an appeal if the SC Act were declared valid.
Justice Isa went on to discuss how he, leading a three-judge special bench, had recommended a pause on all cases under Article 184(3) until amendments were made to the Supreme Court Rules governing the CJP’s discretionary powers in forming benches.
Upon returning from a break, the hearing resumed with a seven-member bench, excluding Justices Isa and Masood. After hearing arguments from the counsels, the bench ordered the collection of records of all individuals apprehended in connection with the May 9 events. However, the bench rejected the proposal to halt the military courts proceedings.
“Stay orders are not the solution to every problem. We hope that the military court has not commenced the trial of civilians yet,” said CJP Bandial. He assured the AGP that the court would not issue any order without hearing their viewpoint. The hearing of the case is set to resume today, Friday.