The Supreme Court of Pakistan has defined and determined the scope of terrorism in a landmark judgement. The SC bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa included Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah as members.
In April 2019, the SC said it would deal with the definition of the term and decided to determine some criteria for its application. The observation came when senior counsel Burhan Moazzam Malik drew the attention of a seven-judge SC bench to the travesty of circumstances where cases of terrorism were sent to the military courts, saying he did not see any ATC in Lahore hearing cases that strictly fell within the category of terrorism.
The judgements also clarifies that the term ‘terrorism’ can be applied to the use of force, under an organized plan, for the realization of religious, ideological or political goals.
The top judged noted with regret that by introducing the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA) the legislators had made a very open-ended law which had only added to the confusion. And though the ATA was introduced in 1997, many amendments were brought to the law in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2013 in which even the definition of terrorism was changed.
Should the courts consider the cases of terrorism on an individual basis by considering the date of occurrence of the offence and comparing it with the definition at the time of the incident, he asked.
According to the apex court’s definition, any violence carried out for religious, ideological or political objectives, to spread fear among the government and the masses, to inflict damage to life or property, to fan religious sectarianism and to carry out attacks against the law enforcement agencies or security forces, is terrorism.
— Dunya News (@DunyaNews) October 30, 2019
The judgements also clarifies that the term ‘terrorism’ can be applied to the use of force, under an organized plan, for the realization of religious, ideological or political goals. It can also be applied when, under the plan, terror is struck in the hearts of people and damage dealt to lives and property.
The offence of terrorism is also committed when under an organized plan sectarian tensions are spread in society. Attacking journalists, the business community, the public, and the social sector under an organized plan also falls within the definition of terrorism.
Similarly, an attack on law enforcement agencies and security forces is also terrorism, according to the judgment. Employing an organized plan to cause damage to government property and to commit theft and robbery under such a plan are also acts of terrorism.
What is NOT Terrorism
The judgment also outlined what offences cannot be viewed as terrorism. The court clearly distinguished in its judgment that acts of violence, such as setting things on fire and extortion, committed under a personal vendetta arising out of enmity or hostility are not ‘terrorism’.
Personal enmity as a result of contempt for a person’s religion is not terrorism. A person’s involvement in an act of violence owing to hostility or personal enmity against the police, army or government employees does not fall within the scope of terrorism, ruled the court.
SC today clarified definition of “terrorism”, holding an offence is terrorism only when committed with a specific “design” – how heinous it is or its “effect” irrelevant
This makes decision to consider cases like Shahzeb’s murder as “terrorism” even more difficult to understand pic.twitter.com/bi9xbw8ib9
— Reema Omer (@reema_omer) October 30, 2019
The Supreme Court clarified that “any action constituting an offence, howsoever grave, shocking, brutal, gruesome or horrifying, does not qualify to be termed as terrorism if it is not committed with the design or purpose specified or mentioned in clauses (b) or (c) of subsection (1) of section 6 of the said Act”.
The court recommended that the Parliament consider substituting the current definition with “a more succinct one” to bring it “in line with the international perspectives of that offence and focusing on violent activities aimed at achieving political, ideological or religious objectives”.