A secret military court in Pakistan sentenced six men to death after convicting them of involvement in the Taliban massacre of 134 children at an army-run school in Peshawar, the military said on Thursday.

The sentences are the first known convictions for the December massacre in the northwestern city after parliament in January approved military courts to try accused militants. The government argued civilians were afraid to convict them.

The six defendants – civilians convicted of aiding six gunmen who attacked the army school-confessed before the court, according to a statement from the military’s press wing.

“The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/providing them legal aid and defence councils,” the statement said.

“Today, the sentences of death have been confirmed by the Chief of Army Staff,” it said, adding that the condemned had the right to a hearing before a court of appeals.

Following a legal challenge on parliament’s decision in January, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled last week that closed military courts are legal and can pass death sentences on civilians, a judgment that critics say further strengthens the military’s grip on power at the expense of civilian authorities.

The December school attack is seen as having hardened Pakistan’s resolve to fight jihadist militants along its lawless border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million, is plagued by a Taliban insurgency, sectarian violence and militancy.

Since January, military courts have heard at least 100 militants’ cases, the law ministry said in June. However, little information has been released on the identity of any suspects or convicts, charges or evidence against them.

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