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Pakistan says 700 people are being held without trial

By David Ariosto and Nasir Habib, CNN
January 25, 2013 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Irfan Qadir made the statement during a Supreme Court hearing in Islamabad
  • Qadir pointed to a controversial law giving Pakistani forces broad powers in tribal regions
  • Roughly 14 internment camps exist in Pakistan's volatile tribal regions
  • A landmark case has also brought greater scrutiny to the nation's spy agency, the ISI

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan is holding some 700 suspected militants without trial in internment camps along the Afghan border, the nation's attorney general told Pakistan's highest court.

Irfan Qadir made the statement during a Supreme Court hearing regarding seven suspected militants who claim they had been abused by Pakistani spies.

During the proceeding Thursday in Islamabad, Qadir pointed to a controversial law that gives Pakistani forces sweeping powers in the country's insurgency-wracked tribal regions and permits such detainments for as long as the current conflict continues.

The two-year-old law, known as the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulations, has been roundly criticized by rights groups who say it infringes on basic civil liberties.

Amnesty International said that "thousands have been arbitrarily detained, risking torture, other ill-treatment and even death while in custody." Pakistan has denied those accusations.

"This is like disappearing of people, and we would call them missing persons," said human rights activist Tahira Abdullah.

Qadir said roughly 14 internment camps exist in Pakistan's volatile tribal regions, where Taliban fighters are believed to have fled in the wake of the U.S.-led Afghan invasion in 2001.

The landmark case of the seven suspected militants has brought greater scrutiny to the nation's spy agency, the ISI, considered one of its most powerful institutions.

During their initially appearance last year, the detainees hobbled into the courthouse surrounded by dozens of armed police officers and family members.

"We didn't have proper food and (were) never offered a doctor while in custody," detainee Abdul Basit said at the time.

They were initially arrested in 2007 and 2008 and accused of being involved in militant attacks targeting army bases. But the men were acquitted and freed in 2010, only to be detained again by the ISI.

Conflict continues in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. On Friday, at least 32 militants were killed in the Tirah Valley during a gun battle between rival militant groups, including Pakistani Taliban.

The valley is considered a strategic locale given its proximity to Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, and has been the focus of recent fighting.

Also Friday, a bomb exploded near the front gate of a home belonging to a relative of a member of the Awami National Party, which is considered a secular political group opposed to the Taliban insurgency.

The blast left at least one person dead and two injured in the northern Pakistani city of Madran, according to police.

CNN's Shaan Khan and Aliza Kassim contributed to this report. Nasir Habib reported from Islamabad and David Ariosto wrote in New York

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