Hanging Military Court Victims is Judicial, or Simply Plain Murder

By Gull Rukh Khan

PESHAWAR, August 31(2005): Killing an incapacitated individual without having secured the utmost legal cover, even in a quasi-civilized society, is deemed murder and manslaughter. Civilized societies have ceased to implement capital punishment since long time back.

On Friday, August 26, a military court, sentenced five men to death for their alleged roles in a 2003 suicide plot to kill General Pervez Musharraf. Four of them are civilians. Questions are: What jurisdiction that military court has to adjudicate criminal cases? Since when does we have parallel military courts?

Didn’t the Supreme Court explicitly struck down Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to establish anti-terrorism courts manned by military personnel? What else if this episode not illustrates the reprehensible supra-constitutional mind set of our military elite?

Thus, withholding of the death sentence by the highest judicial venue of the country is the minimum most prerequisite for the state for taking human life. Failure to do so is plain homicide which in turn carries the death penalty for all responsible and involved in Pakistan.

Violence must be condemned in all its forms and manifestations. I have no sympathies at all for anyone who kills or attempts to kill fellow human beings regardless of political inclinations and so-called religious justifications. But, it must be stated explicitly that judicial murders are as reprehensible, if not more, as mayhem wreaked by contract killers.

As far as I know General Field Court Martial is authorized to hand out death penalty only during the very limited period of ongoing war – a provision that is still highly controversial and in many legal circles considered akin to extra-judicial killing. Owing to the haste with which all the affairs are conducted before the Courts Martial, setting aside all inbuilt safety valves of the civil courts, judicial errors are much frequent than is usually the case.

Therefore, execution of the soldier Islam Siddiqui, 35, in Multan jail on August 20, accused of involvement in a plot to kill General Pervez Musharraf two years ago without letting him to appeal against the verdict handed down by the Field Court Martial in superior courts of the country was unlawful by any legal interpretation.

Every decision, action of the state affecting the fundamental rights of a citizen, what else can be more fundamental than the right to exist, is open to the scrutiny of the courts.

To be noted, I am least interested in discussing his guilt or motives. The moot point is not his culpability over here. Difference between justice and cold-blooded assassination is just the accepted norms of judicial verdict.

I have always thought that we are past such summary executions. Alas, I was wrong. In simple words, hanging of Siddiqui is nothing but a GHQ-sanctioned murder, COAS-imposed homicide. This is murder and is as much legally and morally right (or wrong) as Siddiqui’s and his accomplices’ alleged attempt to blow Musharraf up, Musharraf’s illegal status and commitment of high treason notwithstanding.

Interestingly, the accused was reportedly hanged in the case where there was not a single minor human casualty and the whole spoof was winded up in less than 18 months – must be a record in Pakistan’s checkered judicial history.

Obviously, in civilian courts, the capital punishment was almost out of question in the absence of ready-made decision from the GHQ and extreme external pressure. Judges may validate unlawful coups but issuing a death warrant without solid legal grounds takes much more than that.

As a result, it wouldn’t be off the mark to claim that this execution has been taken place by simple administrative orders of the COAS, and the Field Court Martial rubber stamping the orders from the top. Of course, a petty NCO, a paltry foot soldier daring not only to defy the mighty general(s) but attacking them literally cannot be spared no matter what may come.

Law enforcement powers must remain behind, and not get ahead of the law is the foundation of any society aspiring to survive in long term. Bulldozing the Constitution for political gains is one thing, blowing it apart for criminal cases is altogether different story. If we start mangling the Constitution for settling personal scores where would it end?

If all this be taken into account, one can easily see how it happens that, the action of the regular laws being suspended, military justice, designed exclusively for time of war, has taken the place of the civil administration and will start covering Pakistan with gallows. The demoralizing effect of such a substitution upon the habits and life of the country needs no commentary.

The ideas so forcibly developed by Leo Tolstoy in his pamphlet, “I Cannot be Silent” can be paraphrased as follows:

That the death penalty especially by a field court martial with no right of appeal, is an evil and a murder in itself which does not allow the offender time to reform and realize his or her mistake.

If the death penalty were to be followed religiously, then most of the current leaders would have been put to death a long time ago because of their heinous crimes against humanity.

That such a murder is merely an act of treating symptoms of a wider national political problem which can be solved peacefully without a single shot being fired. The problem in our country is lack of democracy and tolerance of each other’s views.

The execution of Siddiqui was apparently meant to serve a message to all and sundry that in Musharraf’s Pakistan, disregarding the top brass is an unforgivable blasphemous sin carrying fatal consequences. Quite simple, if duly elected prime ministers are hanged for being insufficiently docile, ordinary souls stand nowhere.

The writer has a Master’s degree in Political Science and is a Non-practising lawyer, based in Peshawar

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