A military court in Pakistan has reportedly sentenced human rights defender and political activist Idris Khattak to 14 years’ “rigorous imprisonment” on charges of espionage after anonymous sources claimed he had provided sensitive information to a “foreign intelligence agency.”
Khattak, 57, was taken into custody on November 13, 2019, when armed men intercepted his car near Swabi, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He has since been held incommunicado. On November 24, Khattak’s family filed a petition in the Peshawar High Court calling for the government to report on Khattak’s whereabouts. On June 16, 2020, the Defense Ministry finally admitted that Khattak was in military custody and had been charged with treason under the Official Secrets Act.
Khattak’s brother filed another petition with the Peshawar High Court seeking to annul the military court trial, but on January 28, 2021, the court rejected the petition. According to media reports and Amnesty International, the family has been denied information regarding the exact charges, and excluded from attending the trial. Khattak’s conviction under these circumstances is the culmination of a series of egregious abuses that began with his abduction, seven-month enforced disappearance, and subsequent secret trial that violated due process and fair trial standards.
Pakistan’s security forces have with impunity long carried out enforced disappearances, defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. After reinstating the use of military courts in 2015, Pakistan has tried hundreds of suspects in secret trials that violate due process standards. There is no independent monitoring of military trials and no right to appeal military court decisions. Defendants are routinely denied details of the charges and evidence against them.
The Pakistani authorities should quash the verdict and sentence against Khattak. They should allow Khattak’s family to meet him, make details of the charges public, ensure Khattak has adequate legal representation to defend himself, and if there is any credible evidence that a crime has been committed, conduct his trial in a civilian court.