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Pakistan Hands Over 33 Pro-Imran Khan Protesters for Trial in Military Courts

Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, center, listens to a question during a press conference in Islamabad, May 24, 2022.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, center, listens to a question during a press conference in Islamabad, May 24, 2022.

Thirty-three supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan have been handed over to the army to face trial in military courts on charges of attacking armed forces' installations, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Friday.

The 33 accused are among the thousands detained since Khan's May 9 arrest sparked violent protests across Pakistan. Those handed over to army authorities are accused of trespassing on and vandalizing sensitive military installations, according to Sanaullah.

Khan was arrested on graft charges, which he denies. While he was subsequently released on bail, his confrontation has escalated with the country's powerful generals.

The political unrest has deteriorated as Pakistan faces its worst economic crisis in decades. Inflation is at record highs, economic growth is anemic, and there are fears the country could default on external debts unless the International Monetary Fund unlocks delayed disbursements.

"The accused who are being handed over to the military are those who trespassed and entered very sensitive defense installations," Sanaullah told a press conference in Islamabad.

He said that evidence suggested the protesters damaged or stole important equipment, computers and other sources of data collection.

Sanaullah said only those involved in breaching out-of-bounds areas would face trial under army laws, suggesting there would not be mass trials in military courts.

But in response to a question, he also suggested that Khan could also be tried in a military court, saying: "as far as my own assessment and the evidence we have ... this man is the architect of all this mess and planning, so yes, he comes under this category."

Rights groups have raised concerns over military trials of civilians, saying they cannot ensure a fair trial. Such courts are closed to outsiders and the media.

Sanaullah said after a verdict from the military courts the accused would have a right to appeal to a high court and then the Supreme Court.

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