Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agencies are facing an unprecedented challenge from the Supreme Court, which has directed them to produce seven men who were allegedly arrested without due process and injured while in custody.
A three-judge bench headed by chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry directed the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence yesterday to present the seven men in court on February 13.
The bench also directed the defence secretary and chief secretary of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to be present at the next hearing.
The judges repeatedly pulled up Raja Irshad, the counsel for the two intelligence agencies, after the men were not presented in court in accordance with a deadline set by the bench earlier.
"Our order has not been complied with. The missing prisoners are in the custody of the intelligence agencies. Right now, we want to see the surviving prisoners," the chief justice remarked.
Irshad informed the court that four of the men were in Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar while the others were in a detention centre at Parachinar, the main town of Kurram tribal region. He assured the judges that the men would be produced in court on February 13.
The bench took up the case of the "missing" men after a woman petitioned the apex court, saying that her three sons were picked up by intelligence operatives for their alleged role in attacks on the army's general headquarters and the ISI's Hamza Camp in Rawalpindi.
The court was subsequently informed that the woman's sons were detained along with eight other men, and that four of the suspects had died in mysterious circumstances over the past six months.
The suspects were all being tried under the Army Act.
During yesterday's hearing, the chief justice said the court intended to investigate the circumstances in which the four prisoners died and to "fix responsibility".
Even as the court was conducting the hearing, four of the men were moved from Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, apparently by intelligence operatives who had their faces covered. Footage aired by Geo News channel showed that one of the men was unable to walk without help.
An official at the hospital told the media the four men had been undergoing treatment at the medico-legal ward and had been in a "bad shape" when they were brought in.