LAHORE - A three-member bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that sufficient evidence was available with the court to establish that 35 missing persons were in army custody, hence the military authorities were bound to produce them before the court.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry also observed that the army was tarnishing its image by not producing the undeclared internees.

The bench headed by CJP observed this while hearing a case for the recovery of a man, Yasin Shah, coupled with a notice taken by the apex court about 34 other internees.

The bench comprised Chief Justice, Justice Jawad S Khwaja and Justice Amir Hani Muslim.

The bench ordered defence minister and the secretary to ensure production of 35 undeclared internees (missing persons) on Nov 28 (Thursday) or appear in person before the court to face the consequences.

The chief justice passed this order after the defence authorities failed to produce the alleged missing persons on Tuesday and again sought more time from the court.

As hearing started on Tuesday morning, Additional Secretary defence Maj-Gen (r) Raja Arif Nazir, Senior Joint Secretary Anzar Rizvi, Director Legal Muhammad Irfan, Inspector General of Prisons Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Zakir Husain Afridi and Superintendent of Malakand Internment Centre Ataullah appeared before the three-member bench.

Secretary defence did not appear.

Additional Attorney General Tariq Khokhar told the bench that the secretary defence had been advised medical rest. He sought more time for the defence authorities to produce the missing persons.  To a query, the bench was told that acting charge had not been given to anyone in the absence of defence secretary. The bench noted that no document was produced about medical leave of the secretary and directed the additional secretary to produce sanction order of the secretary.

Replying to another bench query, the additional attorney general said the portfolio of defence minister was retained by prime minister presently.

Superintendent of the internment centre also produced the list of 35 undeclared internees who had been taken by army. Yasin Shah was one of them.

At this, the CJP observed that as sufficient evidence was available to establish the custody of the 35 persons with the army, therefore, the army authorities were bound to produce them before court of law and had no authority to retain their custody unlawfully. The CJP remarked that these persons were not missing as their custody had been identified.

The bench deferred the hearing till 1pm and directed the additional attorney general to take up the matter with ministry of defence and ensure production of the internees from the custody of the army.

During the hearing in the second session, the additional secretary defence Nazir stated that the acting charge of the secretary had been entrusted to him. However, he insisted on more time for production of the internees.

“We are sitting here, go and produce the persons by the evening,” Justice Chaudhry asked the additional secretary while turning down his request.

The CJP further observed that the army was tarnishing its image by not producing the undeclared internees.

The bench sat again on 4pm and held proceedings with the attendance of the additional attorney general and additional secretary defence.

The bench rose with direction to defence minister and secretary to produce the internees on Nov 28 or appear in person. Next hearing will be held at Karachi registry of the SC.