The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Saturday identified six ‘missing persons’ who had relatives complaining about their ‘forced disappearance’ saying the country’s powerful army took them into custody from a detention centre. The government earlier produced 14 ‘missing persons’ before Justice Amir Hani Muslim, a member of the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry which had taken up a case relating to a missing man named Yasin Shah. The missing persons were brought to the premises of the apex court in two vehicles with their faces covered. Attorney General Muneer A. Malik was also present in the court’s premises. Relatives of the missing people launched a legal bid to force the military to produce 35 people who they alleged are being held in ‘unofficial’ military detention at a string of secret investigation centres.
The apex court took up the case and ordered the defence ministry to produce these “missing persons.” Acting upon the court’s advice, the authorities presented some of the detainees in the court Saturday during an “in camera” session. Of those, six were identified as missing people who had relatives complaining about their disappearance. “Six missing persons, who were presented in the court today, have been identified,” Muneer A. Malik, the Attorney General for Pakistan, told AFP. The court did not allow media to witness the proceedings. Ataullah, the superintendent of the internment centre in Malakand, was also been summoned by the court with all records pertaining to the detentions.
Speaking after the proceedings an official of the defence ministry said they had obeyed the court’s order to present the missing persons. “We presented these people to obey the court orders and will present more people before the court on Monday or Tuesday to further act on the court directives,” Arif Nazir, a senior official of defence ministry, told AFP. Earlier on Friday, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif did not disclose the names of the 14 but said that seven of them were living a free life and could be produced whenever the court so desired. Two are internees and information about five others are unsubstantiated but may be confirmed in a day or two, the minister had told the bench during yesterday’s hearing.
The bench, unsatisfied with the defence minister’s explanation, had then ordered the production of the 14 before Justice Amir Hani Muslim at 10.30am on Saturday. Attorney General Malik was also ordered as required to ascertain the status of the persons. The apex court had also obligated the authorities to ensure the presence of one or two relatives of these persons who could identify them and, if needed, Justice Muslim and the attorney general may ask questions to ascertain facts and their status.
The court had also ordered that relatives of two of the internees — Sardar Ali and Nadir Khan who had died on Dec 29 last year and July 1 this year, respectively, in the Lakki Marwat internment centre inside the Malakand garrison — be produced before Justice Muslim to confirm if they had agreed to receive the bodies without autopsy. Defence of Human Rights (DHR), an organisation formed by the relatives of the missing persons, says that around 2,000 people have disappeared from across the country.
Last month, a group of over two dozen people – mostly women – marched 700 kilometres (430 miles) from Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Balochistan province, to the southern port city of Karachi to register their protest over disappearance of their relatives. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who retires on December 12, has actively persued Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, which are often seen as untouchable, demanding they explain the fate of missing persons believed to have disappeared into their custody. Dwan