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Pakistan's spy agency faces court ultimatum

From Reza Sayah, CNN
updated 9:50 AM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands guard outside the supreme court building in Islamabad on February 2, 2012.
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands guard outside the supreme court building in Islamabad on February 2, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistan's high court orders the spy agency to produce detainees in court
  • Judges want an explanation of deaths and alleged illegal detentions
  • The powerful spy agency is facing a rare legal challenge
  • Rights activists blame the agency for human rights violations

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's all-powerful spy agency could face an unprecedented challenge from the nation's high court after a lawyer representing seven victims urged contempt of court charges Friday.

The Supreme Court had given the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency until midnight Friday to produce the seven men, who according to attorney Tariq Asad, were arrested without due process and injured while in custody.

The ISI has also been ordered to explain the deaths of four other detainees.

Asad said he filed a petition after the Supreme Court adjourned Friday's hearing without the presence of the seven detainees.

A three-judge panel gave the ISI a new Monday deadline to produce the men.

"The court wants the detainees in court today and they're not accepting any excuses," said Asad. "The court has said they have until midnight to produce the detainees, even if it means bringing them to court in a helicopter."

The court did not spell out consequences if the ultimatum is not heeded.

But the case breaks new ground in that the ISI has long been thought untouchable. Legal proceedings could expose the inner workings of the highly secretive agency like never before.

On Thursday, the spy agency's lawyer presented the court with medical certificates for four of the seven detainees to show they were hospitalized, and he asked permission from the court to present confidential letters explaining the whereabouts of the other three men, Asad said.

The ISI blamed the death of detainee Abdul Saboor, 29, on natural causes, but his mother said scars on his body prove the agency tortured and killed her son.

"He had so many marks on his body," Rohaifa Bibi said, pointing to numerous scars in a picture of her son's corpse. "When they showed me the body, he was just skin and bones."

Saboor and his brothers made a living by printing Korans at a Lahore shop, Asad said. He said they were law-abiding but did acknowledge that all of the detainees were suspects in several militant attacks, though they were acquitted of the charges in 2010.

A lawyer for the ISI told the Supreme Court that the spy agency did detain the men for further questioning but said they were set free.

The ISI denies any role in the four deaths they have been ordered to explain.

Human rights groups have documented ISI-sanctioned intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urged Pakistan's judiciary to prosecute those who are responsible for keeping the people under illegal custody. Otherwise, it said, the courts will be complicit.

Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report

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