PTI worker not handed 10-year sentence by military court for stealing peacock
Claim originated from a now-deleted tweet that was based on an assumption
Claim: A young student, who was reportedly one of the people who stole peacocks from a Pakistan Army housing compound during the protests against the arrest of Imran Khan, “has been sentenced to 10 years jail”.
Fact: Soch Fact Check found no news reports of such a development. Moreover, we spoke to a constitutional lawyer, who said the Pakistan Army’s media wing usually makes an announcement after a sentence is handed down to an accused, but it has not done so yet. Another lawyer flagged the user’s claim, saying it was “impossible” for the young man to be convicted so fast.
On 18 May 2023, Twitter user @Yousafzais_ posted a tweet claiming (archive) that a young man was arrested and handed a 10-year prison sentence for allegedly stealing a peacock (archive) from a Pakistan Army housing compound during the country-wide demonstrations that erupted following the arrest of former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, on 9 May (archive).
@Yousafzais_ — who quote-tweeted journalist Shiraz Hassan’s post showing a picture of the detained young man sitting between two police officers — captioned their tweet as follows:
“He is a student of F.Sc and his final exams are in a week and he has been sentenced to 10 years jail for carrying a peacock.
He fought for a politician who is unable to rescue him even. Youth of this age need to align their focus in building themselves up.”
FSc, or Faculty of Science, is a two-year higher secondary school certificate in Pakistan.
@Yousafzais_ has now deleted the tweet in question but not before it spread to other social media platforms.
Pakistan Rangers had taken the cricketer-turned-politician into custody from the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) premises on the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) orders as he was set to appear in a hearing in the Al-Qadir Trust case.
It is pertinent to note here that the Pakistan Army announced it intended to try people involved in vandalising military installations and equipment during the protests against the former PM’s arrest under different laws, including The Pakistan Army Act, 1952, and The Official Secrets Act, 1923.
The federal government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif — following a 16 May 2023 meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) — endorsed the Pakistan Army’s decision, which was issued through its media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), a day earlier.
In a 13 May tweet, Sharif also said the “cases will be tried by the anti-terrorism courts”.
And on 21 May 2023, Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported (archive) on an ISPR news release that stated the Pakistan Army Chief General Syed Asim Munir said, during a visit to Corps Headquarters Lahore, the “legal process of trial against planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators involved in [the] May 9 tragedy has commenced”.
The said legal process has started “under Pakistan Army Act and Official Secret Act as per existing and established legal procedures derived from the Constitution of Pakistan”, the APP added.
Fact or Fiction?
Soch Fact Check spoke to Usama Khawar, a constitutional lawyer who teaches law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences’ (LUMS) Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School Of Law (SAHSOL).
In response to our question as to whether military courts make any announcement regarding the start and end of a trial or rulings and decisions, Khawar said, “Ordinarily, [the] ISPR makes an announcement after a person has been sentenced, with bare minimum information [including] the name of the persons sentenced, charge, and sentence.”
As to whether a military court trial has started or if any PTI protesters have been sentenced already, he said he “can’t say anything with certainty as the process is extremely opaque and the [Pakistan Army] hasn’t made any announcement”.
Soch Fact Check has not come across any legitimate news publications reporting about anyone being sentenced, as of writing time.
We also went through comments and quote-tweets of the original tweet by @Yousafzais_ and noted two things: that the Twitter user made an assumption (archive) that such a development has already happened and that they admitted (archive) to possibly being misled by news outlets.
Lastly, several users pointed out that the claim is unverified, false or propaganda here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Among these was also Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed — of the law firm Malik, Chaudhry, Ahmed & Siddiqi — who said (archive), “Impossible that he could’ve been convicted in barely a week. Even a military court doesn’t proceed that fast.”
Soch Fact Check, therefore, rates this claim as false.
Pakistan Army Act and military courts
The secretive trials are held at military courts, officially called Field General Court Martial, with the legal system being different from the ordinary civilian legal one. These courts are operated under “the supervision of the military’s legal directorate, also called the Judge Advocate General (JAG) branch”, and its president and the prosecution counsel are serving military officers, according to Al Jazeera (archive).
The courts came into being under The Pakistan Army Act, 1952, which was enacted to try officers — as well as civilians linked to the forces — and state enemies under the military’s own legal system.
Punishments range from two years to life, while a death sentence can be awarded as well.
The “military courts have yet to be established and no case so far has been sent for a hearing”, Al Jazeera observed.
Khawar, the constitutional lawyer, says that while civilians are not usually tried by the military courts, they can be in certain cases, as per Section 2(d), an amendment introduced in the mid 1960s for civilians “accused of offences, inter alia, waging war against armed forces or law enforcement agencies or attack any military installations or act to over-awe the state or any section of public”.
Section 2(d) is only applicable “as an exceptional measure where there is a war like situation”, Khawar said, adding that it was pertinent to mention that “under the Act, the trial of civilians can not be initiated without the sanction of the Federal Government”.
Accusations of “acts of espionage or attacking military bases and arms depots or acts of similar nature” come under war-like situations, he told Soch Fact Check.
Reuters (archive) reported that “trials are closed to outsiders”, “no media presence is allowed”, an accused “has the right to defend themselves and a counsel of their choice”, and that, most recently, military courts were used “to try Islamist militants waging an insurgency in Pakistan”.
It is also noteworthy that the 21st and 23rd Constitutional Amendments were brought into force in January 2015 and March 2017, respectively, as “a key part of the Government’s 20-point National Action Plan, adopted following the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014”, according to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) (archive).
The “sunset clauses” expired on 30 March 2019, lapsing the 23rd Amendment and “corresponding amendments to the Army Act, 1952,” the ICJ noted in 2019.
A sunset clause is a legislative amendment that is scheduled to remain effective for a limited time period and ceases to exist thenceforth.
Conclusion: Soch Fact Check found no news reports of such a development taking place. Moreover, we spoke to a constitutional lawyer, who said the Pakistan Army’s media wing usually makes an announcement after a sentence is handed down to an accused but it has not done so yet. Another lawyer flagged the user’s claim, saying it was “impossible” for the young man to be convicted so fast.
Background image in cover photo: mana5280