Pakistan’s National Assembly today overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment to revive the controversial special military courts for a period of two years amidst a surge in terror attacks across the country.
Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid had presented the 28th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the lower house of parliament yesterday leading to debate and voting. “The amendment was passed with 255 votes in favour and just 4 against it in the house of 342,” the Speaker said.
Separately, the house also passed The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2017 as part of laws to create the military courts. The constitutional amendment will now be presented to the Senate, the upper house, where it will need two-thirds members’ support for approval.
After passed by the two house, it would need signature of President Mamnoon Hussain to become the law. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was present in the National Assembly for today’s session after remaining away from it for seven months. He voted in the favour of the military courts.
Sharif faced embarrassment when lawmakers from his ally Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl abstained from voting on the bill. The party had expressed reservations about the language and use of the phrase “terrorism in the name of religion”.
It is for the second time that military courts are being set up. The military courts were first set up in January 2015 for a two year term after a constitutional amendment following a terror attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014 that killed over 150 people, mostly students.
Since their expiry in January, government had been trying to bring the political parties around the idea of another tenure for military courts. The military courts awarded death sentence to 161 militants and so far only 21 have been executed.
Army had demanded to revive the courts for another two years to try more militants and punish them.
The military courts work in secrecy due to fear of backlash by militants. Rights group have slammed the military courts.
The courts were given 275 cases during two-year and they sentenced 161 terrorists to death, whereas another 116 were given varying jail terms, mostly life sentences.
According to latest Amnesty International data on executions around the world, Pakistan is on the five death penalty purveyors in the world, behind only China and Iran.
Pakistan this year witnessed a surge in terror attacks. Over 80 people were killed after an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber blew himself up at the Lal Shahbaz Qalander dargah in Sehwan on February 18. A suicide bomber attacked a protest rally outside the Punjab assembly in Lahore on February 13, killing 14 people and injuring dozens.