The case of over 700 detainees languishing in internment centres was in question in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) as many relatives have filed writ petitions, requesting the court to ask the government and law enforcing agencies on what charges their near and dear ones are detained.
The relatives of detainees claimed in the petitions that earlier they were labelled as missing persons and now they are being treated as suspected militants in the internment centres. Surprisingly, a majority of the relatives stated that they were neither allowed to meet with the detainees under the law nor informed on what charges they were picked up and now detained in the internment centres.
A young man Mujahid Khan told TNS that his father, Minhajuddin, was picked up by the security forces, but luckily, he was recently shifted to Lakki Marwat Internment Centre. “Now we want to meet him and know about his health conditions and charges against him, but the authorities were not allowing us to meet father,” Mujahid said.
Father of another missing person, Noor Zaman, a resident of Mohmand Agency, had filed a writ petition in the PHC, claiming that his son, a student of Madrassah Darul Uloom Ashrafia in Peshawar, had been missing since 2011 and now he was shifted to Ghalanai Internment Centre in Mohmand Agency. He claimed that the in-charge of the centre was not allowing him to meet his missing son.
According to the lists of missing persons shifted to internment centres, law enforcing agencies categorise them in three groups — black (proven militants), grey (suspected) and white (held on suspicion). The law enforcing agencies claimed in the lists that more than 90 per cent persons shifted to the internment centres are ‘black’.
The Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court, Mazhar Alam Miankhel, took notice of the issue a month ago and directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government through Home and Tribal Affairs Department and the federal government through Interior and Defence Ministries to submit a report in the cases of the internees languishing in the internment centres under the strict vigilance of security forces.
During hearing of these cases on April 17, the PHC chief justice ordered deputy attorney general of Pakistan, Manzoor Khalil, to submit a progress report on each internee. The chief justice observed that under the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation, 2011, the oversight board would decide the case of each internee within 120 days after shifting to the internment centre, but the court did not see any such case decided by the oversight board even in years.
The chief justice asked both the governments to hold trials of the militants involved in anti-state activities and release those found innocent. Section 14 of the regulations provides setting up of an oversight board, comprising of two civilians and two military officers to review cases of each person interned within a period of time, not exceeding 120 days, from the issuance of the order of internment.
However, despite repeated show-cause notices to Secretary Home and Tribal Affairs Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Additional Chief Secretary Fata, who are in-charges of the internment centres, as to why not contempt of court proceedings should be initiated against them, they have failed to submit progress report of oversight board even in a single case.
The law officer dealing with the cases of internee, requesting not to be named, told TNS that though the Secretary Home and Additional Chief Secretary Fata were in-charges of the interment centres, they were helpless to assist the court.
Former deputy attorney general, Iqbal Mohmand, who was handling the missing persons’ cases and appearing on behalf of the defence and interior ministries and intelligence agencies, told TNS that no progress had been made in the cases of the militants shifted to the internment centres to-date. He said the authorities should display the lists of the detainees shifted to the internment centres and allow meetings with their family members as per the laws mentioned in the regulations.
Presently, around 43 internment centres are functioning in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A notification was issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa home secretary on July 20, 2011, through which nine centres were notified in the province. These centers are: sub-jail PAITHAM (Pak-Austrian Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management), Swat; sub-jail Fiza Gut, Swat; sub-jail at Malakand; district jails of Lakki Marwat, Kohat and Timergara; and Frontier Corps Forts at Drosh (Chitral), Chakdara and Timergara.
Similarly, another notification was issued by the additional chief secretary Fata on August 12, 2011, notifying around 34 internment centres in the tribal areas. These internment centres have been functioning under two regulations promulgated by the President in 2011. The president had on June 23, 2011, promulgated two almost identical regulations — Action (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation for Fata and Pata — through which several powers have been assigned to the armed forces and civil administration.
These regulations were introduced so as to provide legal cover to the ‘illegalities’ committed by the armed forces in keeping hundreds of suspects in unauthorised detention centres during military operations in the Fata and Pata. The two regulations have been given effect from February 1, 2008 to provide legal cover to the military operations conducted in the tribal areas.
Following continuous pressure from the Peshawar High Court on June 26, 2012, the court was provided a list of around 1,035 detainees who were set free after reformation and another list of around 895 persons detained in interment centres in Malakand region, including Swat. Again, on July 11, 2012, the court was informed that 194 suspects had been interned at an internment centre in Lakki Marwat district.
On December 10, 2013, a deputy attorney general submitted lists of around 700 persons and informed the court that they were shifted to internment centres during the last couple of months. The court was told that 643 persons were shifted to internment centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa whereas 64 were shifted to centres in tribal areas.
Both the regulations have been challenged before the Supreme Court and PHC by different persons, but the courts have yet to decide the cases. One of the petitions was filed by Jamaat-i-Islami provincial chief, Prof Ibrahim.
The petitioners claimed that several provisions of the regulations were in conflict with the Constitution as wide-ranging powers were assigned to authorised officers and armed forces and an interning authority was empowered to intern a suspect till the continuation of action in aid of the civil power by the armed forces. The armed forces have also been empowered to occupy any property with the approval of the federal or the provincial government.
They contended that the Constitution provided for production of an arrested person within 24 hours of his or her arrest before the court, but contrary to that hundreds of suspects have been detained in different centres without production before any court of law.
With the setting up of these internment centres an impression was created by the federal government that it would help resolve the issue of enforced disappearances as the detainees in custody of law enforcement agencies would be shifted to these centres. However, with the passage of time the issue continued to linger on.
Some of the lawyers dealing with cases of missing persons, including Muhammad Arif Jan and Sahibzada Riazatul Haq, believe that the internment centres are under the control of security forces and the civil administration has little say in their affairs. They believe that even the rights provided to the internees under the two regulations have not been followed, especially the visitation right of the relatives of the internee.
Legal experts believe that the superior courts should decide the cases regarding the two regulations at the earliest. They said that the courts should keep an eye on the overall situation prevalent in these centres and monitor as to how many cases of internees had so far been referred to the courts.