May 9 violence: Sanaullah says trial of only 6 cases, out of 499, possible in military courts

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Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Friday that only six first information reports (FIRs), out of a total of 499 registered in connection with violent protests in the country on May 9, could be tried in military courts.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said, “Out of the 499 FIRs, there are only six that are being processed — two in Punjab and four in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — which can possibly be tried in military courts.

“But an atmosphere is being created as if all are being tried in military courts,” the minister added.

Protests had erupted in the country following PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9. While the protests were underway, social media was flooded with footage of rioting and vandalism at various spots, including the Lahore Corps Commander House and General Headquarters, the army’s head of office in Rawalpindi.

The military had subsequently termed the events of May 9 a “dark chapter” and announced its intent to try the rioters under relevant laws, including two military laws — the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.

The decision was endorsed by the National Security Committee, the country’s principal decision-making forum on foreign policy and national security, amid opposition by rights organisations and activists.

The PTI has approached the Supreme Court against the federal government’s decision to prosecute civilians under the Army Act while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif clarified earlier this week that only those accused of vandalising civilian infrastructures would be tried under the anti-terrorism law while those accused of vandalising military property would be put on trial under military laws.

Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Thursday had directed the superintendent of the city’s Camp Jail to hand over 16 suspects arrested in connection with vandalism at Lahore Corps Commander’s House to a military commanding officer.

In today’s press conference, the interior minister said: “Only 19 accused have been handed over to the military courts or military officials in Punjab and 14 in KP”.

The PML-N leader said that the military authorities would investigate the case but would not take “cognisance” of it. They will see where the Army Act or the Official Secrets Act applies, he added.

The minister further said that 88 of the 499 FIRs had been registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act while the remaining 411 had been registered on other charges, such as vandalism, arson or interfering in state matters.

The minister said that almost 4,000 people had been arrested in connection with the cases registered under terrorism charges, adding that 2,588 of these were in Punjab and almost 1,100 were in KP.

He added that 5,536 people had been arrested in the cases registered under other laws, “of which almost 80 per cent have been released on bail”.

Sanaullah further said that the military laws were applicable on an individual when they trespassed on a building, or a part of a building, related to “defence”.

“These prohibited areas going there, trespassing, taking photos and spreading them, what kind of a protest is this? And if you give this the cover of a civilian protest or human rights, then which government can defend itself effectively?” he asked.

At the same time, Sanaullah highlighted that PM Shehbaz had assured the public that those who were found to be innocent would not be punished.

“The prime minister is focused on this, that no innocent should be harmed,” the minister said.