Islamabad: Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chauhary today directed Pakistani intelligence agencies to release seven men being held without charge if they were unable by present evidence against the detainees by tomorrow.
A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice was hearing the case of 11 men who were first arrested in November 2007 on terrorism charges.
A court acquitted the men and directed authorities to free them, but they were detained by intelligence agencies after being released from a jail in Rawalpindi in May 2010.
Subsequently, four of the men died in mysterious circumstances and the remaining seven were produced in the apex court in February last year.
At that time, they were in poor health and some could not walk without assistance.
The Chief Justice gave the intelligence agencies time till tomorrow to resolve the matter.
He directed all respondents to submit their replies on the issue by 9:30 am.
During today`s hearing, Raja Irshad, the lawyer for the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence, said the men were detained on "moral grounds" and there was no evidence against them.
He acknowledged that the men could not be put on trial because of "lack of incriminating evidence".
"But we are morally convinced that they were involved in terrorism," Irshad said.
The Chief Justice observed that suspects cannot be detained indefinitely and unlawfully.
"They should have been released if they could not be tried under the Army Act. They are in confinement for more than four years," he said.
The Chief Justice questioned how a trial would be conducted if there was no evidence against the men.
He said action would be taken against concerned officials if it was proved that the detention of the men was illegal.
Addressing Irshad, the Chief Justice said intelligence agencies were answerable to the apex court.
Legal experts said the Supreme Court?s decision to take up the case of the seven "missing persons" is being seen as a challenge to perceptions that the ISI and other intelligence agencies operate above the law.