5 army officers jailed for militant links -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

5 army officers jailed for militant links

ISLAMABAD: A military court has convicted and sentenced five military officers, including Brig Ali Khan, for maintaining links with a banned organization, the military’s public affairs wing, the ISPR, said in a statement on Friday.

They were handed down sentences varying between 18 months and five years of rigorous imprisonment. The military court had completed proceedings in the case on June 20. During the course of trial, the court recorded statements of five prosecution and two defence witnesses.

“Field General Court Marshal (FGCM) proceedings against Brigadier Ali Khan, Major Inayat Aziz, Major Iftikhar, Major Sohail Akbar and Major Jawad Baseer have been completed. All accused have been convicted besides other, of the charges for having links with a proscribed organisation,” the ISPR said in a rare statement on court martial of officers.

Though the ISPR did not name the banned organisation, it is common knowledge that the convicted officers were arrested last year for their links with Hizb-ut-Tehrir (HT) – a group that has been advocating for a rebellion against ‘pro-American’ military and civilian leaders.

The conviction and sentencing of the officers were publicly announced after the verdict had been shared with Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Brig Ali Khan, the senior-most military officer to have been arrested for association with an extremist entity, was handed down the longest sentence of 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Major Sohail Akbar was sentenced to 3 years’ rigorous imprisonment (RI), Major Jawad Baseer 2 years’ RI, and Major Inayat Aziz and Major Iftikhar 18 months’ RI each. Under the military laws officers found guilty of breach of discipline can be awarded up to 10 years imprisonment. Higher sentences of life term and death are given to those convicted of mutiny.

Brig Khan had initially been charged with planning to attack the army headquarters, GHQ, with an F-16 fighter jet. But, the prosecution later dropped the charge. During the course of the trial, the brigadier maintained that he had been victimised for expressing concerns about the failure of the army to stop the May 2 US raid in Abbotabad in which Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed.

He said he could not be tried under the Army Act. He had also moved the Lahore High Court against his trial by a military court.

Brigadier Khan was serving as director of rules and regulations at the army’s headquarters when he was detained by military’s investigative arm Special Investigation Branch on May 6, four days after Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid in Abbotabad, for suspected links with Hizb-ut-Tehrir organisation.

The brigadier, who had been trained in the US and was to retire in July last, had earlier been denied promotion because of his extremist leanings. The other four officers, all of the rank of major, had been charged with collaborating with Brig Khan and having links with HT. None of them was posted at the GHQ at the time of the arrest.

The convicted officers would have the right to appeal against the conviction before the Army Court of Appeals, the ISPR further said. The HT, which started operating in Pakistan in late 1990s, had been constantly striving to infiltrate military ranks.

Though the HT had enlisted some of the army officers while they were under training at the Sandhurst (UK), their links within the army were first exposed in 2003 when some officers were arrested. The arrests had prompted Gen Musharraf to proscribe the organisation.

The US government had in 2009 alerted the Pakistan Army about the penetration of the HT in its ranks and presence of the group’s cells. Brig Khan’s lawyer Col Inam, while talking to Dawn, said he would apply for a detailed judgement and trial proceedings on Monday.

“We’ll decide the future course of action after getting the trial proceedings,” he added.

He further said according to military rules the punishment for links with a banned organisation was just six months. Longer sentences thus imply that the officers were found guilty of other charges as well.