[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Paksitan [official website] suspended all death sentences on Thursday rendered by the country’s new military tribunal after the Supreme Court Bar Association [official website] challenged the constitutional amendment that created the tribunals. This move directly affects six prisoners who faced imminent executions [JURIST report]. The 17-judge panel held that the military tribunals will not be permitted [BBC report] to hear terrorism cases until the Supreme Court makes its final ruling because verdicts in these cases often carry death penalties. This decision arises from concerns of fairness and the extent of military power, following international concern by advocacy groups and foreign governments regarding Pakistan’s escalating executions. Those convicted by the military tribunals may continue pursuing appeals.
Pakistan’s nine military courts were established in January after Taliban militants attacked children in the Peshawar school massacre [BBC archive; JURIST report], killing 134 students and 19 adults. Military power was subsequently expanded, giving military courts jurisdiction to try civilians accused of terrorism despite the country’s civilian government. Critics argue that the new procedures defer too much power to the military. Allegations of torture and judicial abuse were widespread during the reign of previous Pakistani military courts. However, many Pakistanis support the military courts due to the crumbling civilian system. Pakistan’s use of the death penalty since December in both the civilian and military courts has faced widespread criticism. When the country’s six-year death penalty moratorium was lifted [JURIST report] last December, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [official profile] said the death penalty would only be applied to terrorism-related cases. However, last month the Pakistan Ministry of Interior lifted the country’s moratorium on the death penalty, permitting hangings for all prisoners [JURIST report] who have exhausted all possible appeals. The UN estimates that several hundred of the 8,000 inmates on Pakistan’s death row are minors [JURIST report].