Six Men Sentenced to Death for Abetting Pakistan School Massacre

Six militants found guilty of having links to last December's Peshawar school massacre have been sentenced to death by a military court, the Pakistani army's media website announced on Thursday.

The men were tried on charges of collecting funds, aiding, abetting and harbouring Taliban members involved in the attacks on the Army Public School in the northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014, in which 141 people were killed, including 132 children, many of whom were the offspring of high-profile military personnel. Out of the seven accused, six were sentenced to death while one was given life imprisonment. No date was set for the executions.

"The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/ providing them legal aid and defence counsels," the army statement said. It added they would have the right to file an appeal to the Military Court of Appeals.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the school shooting, saying it was in retaliation for attacks against the group by the army. "We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said at the time. "We want them to feel the pain."

Pakistan's response to the massacre was swift. The day after the attack, the government overturned a seven-year moratorium on executions in terror-related cases. The instantaneous crackdown was criticised by human rights groups who argued that it would simply continue the cycle of violence. A spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office issued a statement at the time urging the government "not to succumb to widespread calls for revenge, not least because those at most risk of execution in the coming days are people convicted of different crimes, and can have had nothing to do with Wednesday's premeditated slaughter."

On January 7, the Pakistani Parliament voted unanimously to allow military courts to try insurgents, on the grounds that civilian courts were too corrupt and crowded to process cases involving terrorism.

In July, Reuters calculated that fewer than one in six of the 180 people who had been hanged in Pakistan since January had been linked to militancy, highlighting that because about 100 cases were carried out in secret courts, the details of the convictions were not available. The agency also quoted human rights lawyer Saroop Ijaz as saying that a number of these cases demonstrated a "staggering incompetence" in Pakistan's criminal justice system, suggesting that mistakes and inaccuracies may have featured in the trials.

A report released by human rights charities Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve in December 2014 revealed that while 800 people were on death row who had been tried as terrorists, "in many cases (as many as 86 percent) there was no link to anything reasonable defined as 'terrorism.'"

One case which garnered global recognition was that of 25-year-old Shafqat Hussain who, at the age of 14 was allegedly tortured before he confessed to killing a seven-year-old boy in 2004. Having spent 11 years on death row, Hussain was hanged in August despite widespread condemnation by the international community.