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ISLAMABAD: A lawyer acting for Pakistani intelligence said yesterday that a group of men detained for years on suspicion of terror attacks had been held on “moral grounds,” admitting there was no evidence against them.
The seven men were first arrested in November 2007 and their release ordered in May 2010, only for them to disappear.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court decided to investigate why the men had been held and in February 2012, they appeared before the court, in poor health, barely able to stand or talk.
The decision by the country’s top court to take up the case is seen as a challenge to perceptions that the country’s shadowy Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agency and other branches of the security services operate above the law.
Raja Irshad, a lawyer representing the ISI and military intelligence, sought to justify the men’s detention but conceded that they could not be put on trial because of a “lack of incriminating evidence”.
“But we are morally convinced that they were involved in terrorism,” Irshad told the court.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said suspects cannot be detained indefinitely and unlawfully.
“Morally they can put any one behind bars, even me. According to them, all the people are guilty,” Chaudhry said.
“They should have been released if they could not be tried under the army act. They are in confinement for more than four years,” he added.
The case originally concerned a group of 11 men, but the court was told last year that four of them had died.
Pakistan has been suffering from a Taliban-led domestic insurgency since 2007, and Islamist militant bombings have killed thousands since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which sparked the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed expressed dismay that the government had not enacted appropriate legislation to deal with terror cases.
“They have not made the necessary legislation. Don’t they see what kind of laws are in other countries, they should look at the Internet,” Saeed said.
“What has the government been doing for the past five years?”
Chaudhry ordered the government and intelligence agencies to report back to him on Tuesday about what would happen to the detainees.
Defending the ISI, Irshad said his clients have repeatedly asked the government to pass more effective legislation to ensure that suspects in high-profile cases are not acquitted on the basis on insufficient evidence. Last month, Amnesty International said Pakistan’s military had arbitrarily detained thousands for long periods with little or no access to due process.
A spokesman for the military rejected the allegations as a “pack of lies”.
The ISI has been accused in the West of maintaining links to Taliban and Islamist militants, whom it has historically sponsored. afp