Pakistan: Idrees Khattak’s military trial is an affront to human rights

The ICJ today denounced the decision by Pakistani authorities to conduct the trial of Idrees Khattak, a leading human rights defender, in a military court.

Idrees Khattak is charged with “spying” among other offenses, related to his monitoring of violations by military forces in 2009. He was forcibly disappeared by the Pakistani Military Intelligence in November 2019. His whereabouts remained unknown until June 2020, when military authorities informed the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances that he was being tried under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

The Peshawar High Court yesterday dismissed a petition challenging the jurisdiction of the military courts in this case. Under international standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Pakistan is a party, civilians such as Idrees Khattak must not be subject to the jurisdiction of military tribunals.

“Idrees Khattak was subjected to the serious crime of enforced disappearance and instead of bringing the perpetrators of this violation to account, the Pakistani military has kept him arbitrarily detained and is now violating his rights further by subjecting him to a military court,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General.

“The Pakistan government must immediately release Idrees Khattak. If there is real and credible evidence implicating him in a cognizable crime, he should be tried by a civilian court and his right to a fair trial should be fully respected,” said Zarifi

The ICJ has found proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall well short of national and international laws requiring fair trials before independent and impartial courts:

  • Judges are part of the executive branch of the State and continue to be subjected to military command;
  • The right to appeal to civilian courts is not available;
  • The right to a public hearing is not guaranteed;
  • A duly reasoned, written judgment, including the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning, is denied; and
  • The death penalty may be implemented after unfair trials.

Idrees Khattak has been charged on multiple counts related to spying and other conduct “prejudicial to the safety or the interests of the State” under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act as well as section 59 of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952. The Pakistan Army Act gives military courts jurisdiction to try civilians for certain offences under the Official Secrets Act.

The alleged conduct for which Idrees Khattak has been charged dates back to July 2009 – ten years before his enforced disappearance.

A group of 10 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have characterized Idreek Khattak’s case as “emblematic of a series of documented enforced disappearances in Pakistan, where many human rights defenders are similarly silenced for their legitimate work of monitoring, documenting and advocating against a range of human rights violations and attacks against minorities.”

The ICJ calls on Pakistani authorities to immediately release Idrees Khattak.

The ICJ also calls on Pakistani authorities to ensure military courts only have jurisdiction to try military personnel for military offences and to bring procedures of military courts in conformity with international standards.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General, sam.zarifi(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Advisor (South Asia), reema.omer(a)

Additional information

In July 2017, in its Concluding Observations after Pakistan’s first periodic review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Human Rights Committee stated that it was concerned by the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians and allegations of fair trial violations in military courts’ proceedings.

The Human Rights Committee recommended that Pakistan “review the legislation relating to the military courts with a view to abrogating their jurisdiction over civilians and their authority to impose the death penalty” and “reform the military courts to bring their proceedings into full conformity with articles 14 and 15 of the Covenant in order to ensure a fair trial.”

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