Pakistan suspends military execution after legal challenge

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - The execution of a civilian sentenced to death on terrorism charges by a military court in Pakistan was suspended on Tuesday, in a first challenge after the Supreme Court's approval of such hearings.

Peshawar High Court halted the sentence, demanding to know from military and government officials more details on the basis on which Haider Ali was arrested as a 14-year-old in 2009 and later convicted, his lawyer, Malik Muhammad Ajmal, said.

The military says Ali is a "hard core terrorist", and that he was convicted of involvement in suicide bombings and acts of terrorism, according to a statement released when he was convicted in April.

The legality of military hearings has been challenged by rights activists and lawyers, who said that trying civilians there denied them the right to a fair trial.

But on Aug. 5, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of a constitutional amendment that allowed the trial of civilian terrorism suspects in military courts - clearing the way for Ali's execution after months of legal wrangling.

Pakistan's parliament had passed the amendment in response to an attack on a Peshawar school in December that resulted in the deaths of more than 150 people, most of them children.

Ali's execution has been suspended until Sept. 8, Ajmal, said.

The then schoolboy was arrested by security forces in the Swat Valley in September 2009, at a time when it was ruled by the Pakistani Taliban. Ali, now 21, was convicted on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to death in April.

His family and lawyer say he was never told what specific charges he faced during the military trial, such as whether they were in connection to an attack or for belonging to a specific group.

"He wasn't only a juvenile, but he didn't know about the charges framed against him by the military authorities to hand down a death sentence. ... Why have they kept him in detention for so long and under what charges?" Ajmal said.

His parents told Peshawar High Court they had been assured by the army that he would be returned within four days of his arrest six years ago, court documents show.

Also on Tuesday, the military announced that it was expanding the number of military courts in Karachi, Pakistan's largest and richest city, in order to try those arrested during an ongoing paramilitary operation there.