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Pakistan military courts could lead to hasty executions: Church

Supreme Court rejects argument against controversial terror courts

Pakistan military courts could lead to hasty executions: Church

Minority Pakistani Christians, seen gathered during a pre-Christmas Sunday service in Lahore on Dec. 21, pray for the victims of the Peshawar school massacre. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

Church officials and human rights groups in Pakistan say a Supreme Court decision allowing controversial military courts will pave the way for more secretive death penalty verdicts and executions.

The country’s Supreme Court on August 5 dismissed a petition to stop the use of the divisive military courts that were introduced by lawmakers this year in a bid to swiftly prosecute suspects accused in high-profile terror attacks.

In an interview following the decision, Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad expressed concern that the use of military courts will lead to rapid death penalty verdicts.

“I believe a fair judgment cannot be made in haste. Everybody deserves a chance to present their case without pressure in government courts,” said the former director of the diocesan office of the bishops’ conference’s National Commission for Justice and Peace.

“Speedy trials and executions cannot guarantee justice. Such systems have no space in true democracy.”

Pope Francis has spoken out against the death penalty, calling it “an affront to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person” in a March letter.

Pakistan’s government established the military courts in January in response to the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history: last December's Peshawar school massacre where gunmen stormed an army-run school killing 133 children and 19 others.

Mahboob Khan, a legal adviser with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the murder of children and school staff were heinous but that should not justify excessively speedy trials and executions.

“For 25 years, we stood against executions and our stance remains the same whatever the reason,” he said in an interview.

Immediately after the Peshawar attack, Pakistan lifted a six-year moratorium on capital punishment. In the ensuing months, at least 188 people have been executed, prompting calls from the Church to reinstate the moratorium.

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The International Commission of Jurists has questioned the independence of Pakistan's military courts and their ability to deliver fair trials.

“The imposition of death sentences by military courts in Pakistan ... is incompatible with Pakistan’s obligations to respect and protect the right to a fair trial and the right to life,” the group said in an April briefing.

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