Top military brass’ decision to take strict action against protesters and their abettors under local laws — including the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act – has sparked a strong reaction from netizens on social media.
Ever since the Pakistan military’s top brass released its statement vowing restraint will no longer be exercised against violators who attack military installations and setups under any circumstances, netizens have weighed in on civilians being possibly tried under the Army Act.
The decision came during a Special Corps Commanders Conference (CCC) held at the General Headquarters with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir in the chair, according to a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
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To clarify, Pakistan Army Act is applicable to military personnel and not the general public. However, in exceptional circumstances, the act may be invoked to address certain offenses committed by civilians if they fall within its jurisdiction.
On May 9th, violent protests were triggered in Pakistan after PTI Chairman Imran Khan was sent to jail in the Al-Qadir Trust case. Clashes erupted between protestors and the police authorities which also resulted in attacks on state and military property, for instance, the GHQ.
In response, the corps commanders deliberated upon the recent law and order situation that a political party’s leadership exploited for political gains and vowed to deal with them in the strongest possible terms, which includes justice through trial under relevant laws of the country, including Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.
However, netizens expressed concern over civilians being tried under the Army Act as it could set a dangerous precedent. Netizens also expressed worry that trials under Army Act could also take Pakistan closer to martial law.
Why cant we solve renowned journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder case under Army Act and Official Secrets Act?
ارشد شریف شہید کے قتل کی انویسٹیگیشن کی کارروائی اس ملک میں پاکستان آرمی ایکٹ اور آفیشل سیکریٹ ایکٹ کے تحت کیوں نہیں ہو سکتی؟ pic.twitter.com/y0I2j6Ed58
— Shiffa Z. Yousafzai (@Shiffa_ZY) May 15, 2023
آرمی ایکٹ کی ابتدا باجوہ اور اس افسر سے ہونا چاہئیے جس نے حکم دیا کہ سابق وزیراعظم کو عدالت کے دروازے شیشے توڑ کر گریبان سے پکڑ کر پوری تذلیل کےساتھ لاؤ اور ڈنڈے بھی مارو
— Sabir Shakir (@ARYSabirShakir) May 15, 2023
When a young boy was convicted under Pakistan Army Act in 2021 @ImranKhanPTI was PM and we warned at that time civilian government must oppose the conviction of a civilian under Army act. Nobody listened to us. How will PTI now oppose cases under Army act? https://t.co/6IzHJp2BcY
— Hamid Mir حامد میر (@HamidMirPAK) May 15, 2023
The Army's latest statement makes clear it's continuing to climb up the escalation ladder in its confrontation with Khan and the opposition. Vows to use military law to prosecute those behind and involved in the recent protests.
This could be quite a week.https://t.co/69dP43KbhM
— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) May 15, 2023
Pakistan Army issues tough statement after top commanders meet. Says civilians deemed to be involved in last wk's violence will be tried under Army Act. Pakistan — in a quasi-state of emergency rule —moves closer toward martial law. Some kind of hybrid of two to prevail for now.
— Arif Rafiq (@ArifCRafiq) May 15, 2023
Not in favour of civilians being tried under the Secrets Act and the Army Act.
People critical of PTI should not celebrate this just because this will be used against PTI activists today, tomorrow it will be used against other activists too.
This should not be allowed to hapoen
— Shehzad Ghias Shaikh (@Shehzad89) May 15, 2023
Pakistan Army's approval for trying protesters under the Army Act and Official Secrets Act is worrisome. It raises doubts about fairness of trials& respect for defendants' rights. Justice should be served in civilian courts, ensuring transparency& adherence to fundamental rights.
— Baqir Sajjad (@baqirsajjad) May 15, 2023
No matter who’s on receiving end there’s no justification for trying Civilians in military courts and weaponising Army Act. Those who broke their oath and abetted to interfere in politics would never be tried, just poor party supporters would be tried without due process.
— Jasir Shahbaz (@LahoreMarquez) May 15, 2023
Should civilians be tried under Pakistan Army Act?
Civilians should generally not be tried under the Pakistan Army Act because the act specifically pertains to the regulation and discipline of military personnel within the Pakistan Army.
A fundamental principle of a democratic society is the separation of powers between the military and civilian institutions. The Pakistan Army Act falls under the purview of military law, which is distinct from civilian law. Trying civilians under military law would blur this separation and undermine the principles of civilian governance.
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Civilian legal systems are designed to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals through fair and transparent processes. Trying civilians under military law may deprive them of these protections and potentially lead to a violation of their rights.
Lastly, maintaining public confidence and trust in the judicial system is crucial for a stable and harmonious society. Trying civilians under military law could erode public trust, as it may be perceived as an encroachment on civilian rights and an overreach of military authority.