April 2, 2015 / 1:08 PM / 3 years ago

New Pakistani military courts sentence six to death

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s new military courts have sentenced six men to death for involvement in terrorism and a seventh to life imprisonment, the military spokesman said on Thursday.

“Army Chief confirms death sentence of 6 hard core terrorists tried by the recently established military courts,” Major General Asim Bajwa said in a message on Twitter.

“Seven hardcore terrorists involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism, men slaughtering, suicide bombing, abduction for ransom, colossal damage to life and property were tried by military courts,” the military said in a subsequent statement that named the seven men.

It said those convicted could take their cases to the court of appeal.

Pakistan established nine military courts in January after Taliban gunmen attacked a school in Peshawar, killing 134 pupils and 19 adults. The courts expanded the military’s powers, giving them the authority to try civilians accused of terrorism.

Critics say the new rules cede too much ground to the military, which towers over Pakistani politics despite the country’s first ever handover of power from one civilian government to another two years ago.

A recent Reuters investigation into military trials under the old system found frequent allegations of torture. Families of defendants claimed the accused were sometimes not given lawyers or access to evidence.

It also found that military officials could dissolve courts whose verdicts they disagreed with and retry the defendants. Appeals took place after the military chief had confirmed the death sentences, meaning any appeal judge who granted clemency would have to overrule a powerful figure.

But many Pakistanis support the military courts, saying it is necessary to bypass the moribund civilian system. The police and civilian courts have been neglected for decades, the conviction rate is very low and there is a backlog of more than a million cases.

Police are frequently accused of torture and receive little training in how to conduct an investigation. Lawyers and judges are poorly paid and often subject to bribes or intimidation.

The Interior Ministry said last month more than 50 cases had been sent to the military courts. It did not release details.

The military is holding thousands of people in internment camps, according to a senior military official. It is not clear when or if they will be tried.

Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Roche

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